Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world and air pollution is a part of everyday life. The unrelenting pace of China’s economic growth and urbanization adds to the pressureof energy consumption. Coal still remains the primary source of energy, the burning of which releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air. Moreover, approximately 1,500 cars join Beijing’s clogged roads everyday. Students from International School of Beijing spoke about this serious problem and offered their ideas on how to reduce air pollution.
What do you think of Beijing’s air quality?
Sunny: It’s really bad. I lived in Hong Kong before which is famous for being polluted, but when I came to Beijing, I thought, "Wow, this is way beyond anything I’ve experienced."
Alex: I come from California and the air there is simply gorgeous – every breath is like heaven. Every time I go back to the US, it’s like a reawakening, and when I come back to Beijing, I have to go to sleep again.
What are some of the leading causes of air pollution in Beijing?
Alex: Factories. I noticed when I first came back in summer; we had really nice days because the factories were not running.
Sunny: The sheer number of cars is definitely one of the biggest problems in Beijing.
Sophie: And China’s population is so large. We consume a lot more energy and it all contributes to pollution.
What can be done to reduce air pollution?
Stephanie: I know China is making great steps towards renewable energy. It’s already the world’s leader in solar and wind energy. I think switching from the use of coal to renewable sources will really help mitigate the problem.
Sophie: I’m not sure if Beijing is structured for public transportation. Buses here are often really crowded and sometimes they are really inefficient. And of course, we can’t force people to make the transition from cars to bicycles, so it would make sense for the government to subsidize the cost of electric or hybrid cars in order for there to be more efficient energy use.
How can Beijing minimize traffic jams?
Alex: In the US, drivers follow the rules whereas here people think, "I have to get there; I don’t care who’s in my way." That causes a lot of problems.
Sunny: There should be more focus on teaching driving etiquette – giving priority to pedestrians, concern for safety, and don’t just start shouting and demanding money [when accidents occur].
Sophie: I think the city’s laws and policies can only work if the people want it to work. The city can’t necessarily do anything if [the people]don’t have the correct mindset to fix the problem. Educating the public makes more sense than asking the city to make more policies because they aren’t being followed.
Stephanie: I don’t think anything can be done unless people change their minds about using public transportation or change their attitude about following the law.
Do you check the air quality before you go outside?
Sophie: I think I’ve become accustomed to the air quality in the sense that I don’t notice it when I’m breathing, but if I can’t see around me, I usually stay in for my safety.
Alex: Normally, it wouldn’t affect me unless it’s an extremely polluted day – just being outside would make me feel like killing myself.
Sunny: I feel your pain.
Should Beijing be forced to switch to green technology?
Sunny: When I went to the Global Issues Network Conference in Hong Kong, I heard some really shocking things. For instance, if a pregnant woman living in Beijing gives birth, the baby’s IQ will be five to ten points lower. The chance for premature births and stillborns also increases quite a bit. So I really think Beijing should start switching to green energy for the next generation, if they want smart people and healthy babies.
Alex: We are all afraid of getting rid of our old habits, but we have to move forward. That time should be coming up pretty soon.
Stephanie: China has to take action now, but it’s going to be more difficult for China because of their heavy reliance on coal. Coal is also tied to the employment of millions of people.
Sophie: The city should definitely be forced to use green technology, but it’ll be such a high cost to implement it in people’s homes, especially in rural areas. People should also cut their energy consumption – it doesn’t make sense to have green technology and still be wasteful.