Beijing's Blue Skies Subvert its International Reputation as the Worst City for Air Pollution
The air in Beijing has been nothing short of amazing this past week, giving local residents a chance open their windows and leave their air filter masks at home.
And yet, what is good for Beijing is clearly a loss for the rest of the world: The Chinese capital's recent improvement in air quality leaves many other locales without a readily available benchmark for the "world's worst city for air pollution."
Against all expectations, Beijing has been enjoying an air quality index (AQI) of just 16 this afternoon (Aug. 7), a feat that caps off Beijing's remarkable 25 percent year-on-year drop in PM 2.5 levels since March. But while we're enjoying the fresh air, the rest of the world is lamenting how their own air quality is worse than Beijing's.
When wildfires caused the air quality index in Washington state to spike at 129 last week, local news media used our fair city as the benchmark for poor air by writing headlines like "Spokane's air quality is worse than Beijing" or "Vancouver air quality worse than Beijing" to the north in Canada.
The comparisons have been going on for a while.
This past January, The Independent shamed London when its air quality was recorded as being "worse than Beijing's" while bushfires caused air pollution in Sydney last November that also happened to be "worse than Beijing."
Even Hong Kong used the "City of Hutongs" as a low benchmark this past March when the air quality in the Special Administrative Region was criticized for being "three times worse than Beijing." But the thorniest jab may have been from India when the smoggy city of New Delhi was shown to have crossed a line when its "hazardous" air quality was called "worse than Beijing" in 2015.
You know, we get it. After having multiple red alerts for smog, Beijing is notorious for its "Airpocalypse." The city's reputation had gotten so bad that Beijing residents were said to inhale the equivalent of 40 lit cigarettes a day; but, with the Beijinger debunking this accusation, we can see that Beijing's reputation for bad air has gotten out of hand.
To all the headline writers around the world: Beijing's air isn't always that bad. Right now, it's even really good. Please adjust your biases accordingly.
To be honest, there may be no time to gloat over the misconceptions of others. It could be that there's an international event going on in town that we haven't heard of, and that these blue skies won't be here for long.
Beijing's ultra-low AQI readings signify that many cities around the world have worse air quality than the Chinese capital – for the time being. We just hope this is something people will keep in mind when poor air quality inevitably returns to Beijing.
Because that's when the windows will close, the masks will return to our daily routines, and this city will again live up to all the bad things said about it.
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