Sadly, because of the sheer volume of pollution that China produces, it's not just Chinese people who suffer from these problems. It has spread internationally to Korea, Japan and has been reported as far abroad as Los Angeles. In fact, the US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) found that air pollution was the cause of premature deaths in more than 4.2 million people worldwide. Asia alone is responsible for around 2.2 million deaths, with China's estimated death toll coming in at almost half of that figure.
A study in 2014 published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) stated that the air pollution from Asia is causing an "intensification of the Pacific Storm Track" which may be contributing to erratic weather in the U.S. So is it any wonder why we now view China as the new "Big Smoke"?
In actuality, China is making big steps to change their pollution output.
In 2018, architect Stefano Boeri Architetti will have completed the construction of China's first Vertical Gardens in Nanjing. They will be a composed of two asymmetrical skyscrapers shrouded in greenery, including over 1,000 trees and totaling over 3000 plants. It is said that it will offset 25 tons of carbon dioxide each year and expel 60 kilograms of oxygen daily. But they won't just be for show; the gardens will have dual functionalities such as offices, museums and rooftop bars. Not only this, Architetti believes that these constructions will help increase biodiversity for local fauna by creating much-needed habitats. This is not the only step that China is taking. The government has accepted that the air pollution is an overbearing problem that the entire country faces. This problem is due to over 70 years of unchecked industrial development. Two trillion Chinese Yuan ($322 billion) is set to be allocated to more than 600 cities across the country as part of their Smart Cities endeavor.
This project is set to develop various smart technologies for improving the quality of the communal environment and infrastructure. Hangzhou is one of the first cities in the world to test the new ISO 37101:2016, which is a management system for sustainable development in communities. In an interview with ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, Ms. Shao XinHua, Director General of the Hangzhou Administration of Quality and Technology Supervision states the "objective was to increase economic development, improve quality, reduce our environmental impact [...]we hope for a positive transformation of our urban environment that will make our citizens happier to live there."
China is not the only country contributing to the problem, with the U.S. being the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion. That doesn't mean to say projects like the Nanjing 'Vertical Gardens' doesn't exist in America. In fact in Mexico City, director Fernando Ortiz Monasterio created the 'Via Verde' to help lower pollution levels. This development has transformed the pillars which support some flyovers and elevated roads into ecological oxygenators by covering them in a specially designed material that contains a multitude of flora. The project has increased Mexico City's greenery by around 40,000 meters.
It isn't just high-profile architects and governments that have a hand in making our planet healthier. There has been a movement centered around putting sustainability back into the hands of the community. Bike hire services throughout China have become the latest solution, to relieve traffic congestion and continue to tackle the issue of pollution. The bikes are extremely affordable, costing as little as 30 cents an hour to hire, meaning that almost everybody can use them. They can be unlocked using a cell phone app and come equipped with a GPS tracking chip, meaning you can pick them up and drop them off anywhere in the country. More and more people in China are using these bikes to get around as they are affordable and healthier not only for the body; but for the planet.
The damage that is happening to our planet in undeniable. However, the countries who contribute the most to the issue are taking great steps to reverse the problems. With China now in its 13th five-year plan to target climate action, both energy intensity and carbon intensity are down 20 percent according to official figures. China is investing in clean energy at world record levels, making the country the global leader in solar power capacity, ahead of Germany, as of 2015. With the success of the 12th five-year plan, China may well achieve it's Paris agreement pledge to reduce carbon intensity by over 60 percent by 2030 as reported by the World Resources Institute (WRI). Since China is on board with the global effort, there is hope yet that we can live in a more sustainable, healthy and beautiful planet.