By Adrienne Mong and Bo Gu
BEIJING — If there were one place that is living proof that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 jumped the largest amount on record, it’s got to be the Middle Kingdom.
Emissions leapt 5.9 per cent last year, according to the Global Carbon Project.
And the world’s biggest emitter —yes, China — was a big contributor. It pumped 2.2 billion tons of carbon into the air, compared to the 1.5 billion tons of carbon by the U.S.
On days like Monday — and there have been way too many this year — it feels like Beijing is the receptacle.
We’ve already written about it, but this time returning to the Chinese capital after a break, I found my hardy NBC News colleagues ordering air filter machines for their homes and air filter masks for cycling (to get around the traffic).
Adrienne Mong/NBC News
The NBC News Beijing bureau invests in air filter masks to combat the pollution.
Monday, while the @BeijingAir index — which comes from an air quality monitor housed atop the U.S. embassy in Beijing — tweeted hourly “hazardous” readings all day, we took a peek at readings back home to see how levels of air pollution were faring across the Pacific.
Across a map of the United States, it was a depressing monochromatic “green” color signifying “good” quality air — with only a few slashes of “yellow,” meaning “moderate.”
Bear in mind, according to the chart developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “hazardous” is the highest alert level, which would trigger “health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected,” according to the site.
There were no readings from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau’s (EPB) own air monitor until mid-afternoon Monday, when it acknowledged “slight pollution.”
Last month, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection suggested it was finally heeding growing concerns among Beijing residents’ about air pollution.
The ministry said it would begin publishing measurements for the smallest particulate matter or PM2.5, also considered the most dangerous to human health because they’re tiny enough to enter the lungs and cause damage to the respiratory system.
Courtesy of Daxian/Weibo
"I thought I was looking at a mirage!" said a Weibo user by the name of Daxian after posting a photo from Beijing Monday morning.
On Thursday, however, the Beijing EPB emphatically announced PM2.5 readings for the city would not be made public.
To add insult to health injury, officials have been quoted in local newspapers as saying they will set up a new air monitoring system for Beijing in … Tianjin — a metropolis 80 miles away from the capital.
Mind you, photos posted on the Shanghaiist blogsite suggest we in Beijing are not the only ones suffering.
(There’s been plenty of supporting visual evidence coming out of Beijing all day. One user of Weibo, the popular Chinese microblog, posted a photo of high-rises apparently floating above a cloud of pollution, calling it a “mirage.” And YouKu, a Chinese version of YouTube, posted a video of this morning’s commute.)
Soho property mogul Pan Shiyi, who led an online petition to get PM2.5 readings published by the EPB, has begun posting on his Weibo account screen shots from an iPhone app that compiles the U.S. embassy’s BeijingAir index.
In the meantime, Chinese authorities are still determined to call the smog by any other name.
But an AFP report called it “smog,” tallying the airport casualties: 213 domestic and 15 international cancelled flights.
Update: Since this posting, a state-run newspaper, The Global Times, quoted meteorological officials as saying the “dense fog” enveloping Beijing and parts of the northeast will persist until Friday. One official described it as a “normal climate condition in Beijing.” Good thing we got our masks.