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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Smog of Tomorrow Visualized

Chinese cities have an extremely bad problem with smog, which is getting worse in cities such as Shanghai. I wish I could present a graph showing the decline of air quality in Shanghai. There used to be an excellent site that allowed you to type in a start date and an end date, and then see the air quality for previous days in Shanghai. Unfortunately that site no longer has any recent data (the link is here, but when you press the Ok button you no longer get any data for any time after January 1, 2013). 

Here is some data I have accumulated from recording the air quality in Shanghai on random recent dates this year. An air quality number above 100 is considered unhealthy:

1/18 197
1/19 177
1/20 152
1/21 107
1/22 95
1/23 87
1/24 64
1/25 279
1/28 153
2/3 64
2/13 96
2/14 75
2/17 147
2/22 177
2/25 165
2/28 107
3//5 135
3/7 107

This is a total of 12 unhealthy days out of 18. The air pollution in China is so bad that scientists think it is starting to drift to the United States, and is helping to decrease the air quality in cities in California. It is estimated that air pollution in China is causing the premature death of up to 500,000 people every year.

The decline of air quality in Shanghai is a tragic tale of the price of runaway growth. When I first visited the city about twenty years ago, the air was relatively clean, the streets were packed with bicycles, and there were relatively few skyscrapers. Now more and more Shanghai residents drive cars and Shanghai has many skyscrapers, but the air quality is very poor. One of the main reasons for building a skyscraper is to give people a nice view from the tall building. But that doesn't work if you look out the window of a skyscraper and cannot see very far.

Let us extrapolate a few years into the future and imagine what the view will look like from a skyscraper in an average large city of China.

You might see a view that looks like this:



Or looking out of the window of your expensive apartment, you may see a view that looks like this:

smoggy city

Or on a day of better-than-average air quality you might look out the window of your high-rise office building and see a view that looks like this:

smoggy city

These visuals are art pieces I created using the Bryce computer program. Do you think this is just alarmist art? Do a Google image search for “Beijing smog” and “Shanghai smog” and you will see many photographs that show smog as bad as shown in these visuals.

What can you do to help reduce this terrible problem of air pollution in China? Buy less. Much of China's smog is produced by factories producing manufactured goods to support the wasteful lifestyles of US consumers.