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This isn't an outtake from Blade Runner – it's the real Beijing (twitter.com)
96 points by doener 894 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

Beijinger since a year here. That's the famous "Dragon Tower" [1] where IBM China is having its offices, located north of Beijing nearby the 4th ring and Olympic Park. Franckly, it is very rarely that bad, maybe 10-15 days a year with PM2.5 levels over 400 µg/m3.

That picture might even have been taken during the impressive sand storm over Beijing in April this year [2], that's the most foggy day I've seen in the last 12 months here. Looking at the sand storm coming and swallowing the buildings from our offices on 10th floor was quite impressive. :-)

Also, if you live in a big city on any continent, you might want to check your own pollution levels using the AQI site [3], you might be surprised by the results. ;-)

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp7nLlaLaBg

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/16/beijing-sandstorm_n...

[3] http://aqicn.org/city/beijing/

Apparently it was taken Saturday 12 Jan 2013 'when the PM2.5 reading reached 886 micrograms per cubic metre, according to the [US] embassy's "BeijingAir" Twitter feed.'


(date taken from the wsj thing http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2013/01/14/photos-of-the-d...)

The problem in Chicago and Illinois is the same as in Beijing. Cheap dirty coal power. Environmentalists in Chicago recently won a battle to shut down two coal plants that were in city limits and costing citizens hundreds of millions a year in health damage. But a lot remains to be done in the state.

Holy shit, as someone who worked a tiny bit on that campaign, never thought I would hear Fisk and Crawford mentioned on HN.

Neat! I didn't work on that campaign, but I worked at the Northwestern Environmental Advocacy Center (on the DePue Superfund site), and we had a close relationship with ELPC, which did one of the economic reports establishing how bad those plants were for Chicago.

Chicago might be something to do with the 4th holiday. The AQI maps for the city seem fine through last week until 7/3 and then a sharp spike on 7/4. Meanwhile: you can walk outside and still smell fireworks here. It was really bad last night.

The number for Chicago doesn't strike me as accurate. I'm in the area right now and it's a clear day. Plus, the levels for nearby areas in Chicago are far lower (80 or so) and the historical levels are much lower. Looks like a blip. That said, I'm sure Chicago is not the clearest city in general.

I live upwind of Chicago (by prevailing winds) in Minnesota, and we have read in our weather reports that forest fires in Canada have added a lot of particulate matter to our air. The sunsets here have been spectacularly red in recent days. I suppose checking those city-by-city reports of measured pollution for long-term trends and recent spikes might help figure out how unusual Chicago's current conditions are, as you thoughtfully suggest.

A quick Google and Wikipedia visit says that pm2.5 fine particulates of the kind reported as being extremely high in some parts of Chicago, are not visible except as a light haze over the city.

It appears to be true that you can have a bright mostly clear day and very high levels of fine particulate pollution.

This haze is part of what contributes to smog when combined with other more visible (course particulates) pollution. But these fine particulates don't appear to be the product of fireworks as suggested below, and are more likely to be the product of the coal power stations.

The measure for Chicago is probably skewed by one of the measuring stations being nearer to, or down-wind from, a coal power station.

Why do you assume that the sampling methodology and calibration is ridiculous?

The part of the city the reading was taken and time of day seems to play a huge factor.

For example, the previous posted said Paris was 24, Paris - where I am now, with the window open, slightly after midnight - is currently reporting 53.

Kunming, a city of 6+ million where I usually live in China's southwest, is a little higher at 68. (This counters the 'China is dirty' western media BS)

Sydney, where I grew up, is higher at 75. However, in another reading closer to the area of town where I used to live it's much lower at a mere 13.

So, check which part of the city you are looking at and what time of the day the reading was taken. Also, don't assume all of China is all dirty and horrible like the east coast megacities (though much of it may be, to varying extents).

Hm. I wonder about some of these results. That number for chicago is wild - that would be clearly visible, serious pollution. And my old haunt BKK, which I left specifically because of the awful air, 32!? The city where I would come home from work with a grey shirt that was white when I left is cleaner than zurich? From personal experience in both cities I assure you it is not.

It's anecdotal, I know, but I wonder about some of this data.

The Seattle data is heavily biased by for the fourth of July fireworks. Look at data before the fourth and across the city.

It's better to look at annual averages: http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/downloads/maps/sdei/sdei-gl...

Seems like they tried to give the skyscraper a Mao haircut!


as answer tweet indicates https://twitter.com/lolamachine/status/617518791375912962

Credit where it's due, Twitter. That Beijing photo is by @nntd and first appeared here http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2013/01/14/photos-of-the-d...

Why would you blame Twitter for a user misappropriating a picture?

Sorry, I forgot the "..." to indicate I was quoting the tweet. So I don't know! If I can speculate, I would say that, per the history of https://twitter.com/lolamachine/ , it seems it is not the first time the photo is mis-appropriated, so 'twitter' could be a short hand (because 140) for people of twitter, both posters and retwitters.

I still remember 2001 when I first arrived at Hongkong to work. My first day at the office, I got teary eyed. I told my boss why is it so..he told me it's because of the pollution and I should drink lots of water.

It is probably way lot worse now. I saw this documentary recently, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM it is a good watch. FYI China is also destroying marine life in the West Philippine Sea http://globalnation.inquirer.net/120699/ph-slams-china-for-d... http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2014/05/12/1322282/photos-...

I am not sure it is so bad there. I lived in HK from 2013-2014 and the pollution was bearable. About 60-120 on the AQI scale (PM2.5)[1]. By US standards that's orange/red (bad) but you get used to it.

In comparison, Beijing is routinely 500+. Manhattan is about 40. And some parts of the west coast push 100+, most likely because of Chinese air floating all the way over the Pacific.


> Manhattan is about 40

That's insane. Copenhagen is at 80.

A genuine question for the people on HN who think government should be as small as possible, and that there shouldn't be agencies like the EPA: what would be your non-government fix for this?

Even arch-libertarians believe in collecting fees to correct externalities.

And exactly how does one go about collecting that fee from someone who doesn't want to pay it in a way that is totally cool with arch-libertarians?

Enforcement of contracts (and fees like this) is one of the core roles of government in the worldview of pure libertarianism.

So you think the government should step in to regulate (or "enforce contracts" if that phrasing makes you feel more comfortable) AirBnB, where many of the properties are sublet in violation of the contract between landlord and tenant?

What would that "enforcement" look like in a libertarian world? Government contract inspectors with guns turning up to AirBnB properties to demand the tenants stop subletting?

AirBnB is precipitating one of the biggest changes in modern times in the rights of property owners to stipulate terms and conditions to those who rent from them, but all I see is libertarians cheering wildly because it 'disrupts' zoning and health and safety laws and screws over the (apparently) powerful hotel lobby.

When did I say anything about my own political views?

The real question is, which externalities merit such fees? Chemicals in water? Particulates in air? CO2 in air? Odor? Sunlight? Panorama? Noise? Solitude?

And in what way does that differ from what the EPA does?

The EPA issues regulations which is different from collecting fees.

My understanding is that the worst of the pollution in Beijing is the many thousands of people heating their houses and cooking with coal.

So in this scenario, there would be a team from the government who would drive around and catch people burning coal (as that is clearly an externality) and ask them to pay them money? Similar to how the BBC drives around and demands fees if a person is caught watching TV without a licence?

The trouble with billing people for damage is it's usually too complicated to do. The BBC fee is a fixed amount to pay to see its shows. London used to have smog caused by people burning coal at home but they banned it after the 1952 smog killed 4000 people. Sadly I think the Chinese pollution has killed far more than that.

It might not.

The problem quickly devolves into an argument over the difference between a legitimate externality and an unwarranted intrusion.

Go see Hong Kong sometime, same thing, massive screens taking up entire sides of enormous tower blocks. Shenzhen too.

Pollution in HK is nowhere near as bad as beijing, though. SZ's better but does have its moments.

It's not everyday, but when the 'Jing has a bad day, it's really something else. I don't know how people live there, it's terrible and you can just feel it damaging your lungs. It encourages this positive feedback loop too - the pollution is so bad you want to take a car everywhere, which of course contributes to the pollution!

I wouldn't be surprised if a fair portion of uber's success in CN is due to people not wanting to walk in the toxic smog. Would be interesting to see a graph of pollution index vs. ride numbers.

[edit: positive not negative]

You manage. Right now it's spring so the air is quite good. Summer will be a bit hazy, fall will be very nice, then by late December it will be bad again. Pollution season is only 3 months/year, though the air is often not super great outside of that.

Also, uber isn't that successful in the jing, taxis are cheap enough (and ya, there is an uber-like app for them), and if you want to go upscale there is didi zhuanche (same app). You either take a car or a taxi, if you can afford $5-$10, or a bus/subway/bike if you can't, pollution doesn't really affect that.

Hm, I've had people tell me that they prefer uber (or the other app you mentioned - i couldn't remember its name) because the cars tend to be better, and with better air filtering. Maybe that gave me the impression it's more popular than it actually is.

Certainly I'd spend a couple bucks more to sit for an hour (or more!) in an audi or VW over a hyundai..

Uber is completely off the radar right now, I think they only service some parts of chaoyang even, I do most of my travel from haidian to chaoyang. Didi zhuanche offers better cars, but not Audi (maybe you are thinking of Shanghai?)...at best a VW or Buick.

Taxi is quite ok when the air is really bad. You can only filter so much air in a car, and it's not like they are putting in giant HEPA filters. The main problem I have is sleeping with the window closed when the air is bad...even with the air filter going, it is very hard to sleep soundly.

Hey, thanks for sharing your local experience. I've only visited! I thought uber black runs audis in BJ but I only heard that from a friend. Maybe I or he was confused.

Out of interest, why do you have issues sleeping with the window closed? Frankly, it would be extremely rare for me to sleep with the windows open no matter where I am.

Probably because as a Seattleite, it's what I'm used to (no ac or heat needed). Chinese people think I'm nuts, especially when we have to share rooms on trips. Couple that with preferred western sleeping temperatures being much lower than Asian ones...it leads to conflict.

Summer began weeks ago by various definitions of it.

It is still spring here, even if not officially. Today was nice and cool, the air is clean, in a couple of weeks it won't be this nice.

You mean, positive feedback loop. Negative feedback tends to be self-correcting.

Oops, right you are. Corrected.

Fortunately not reaching Beijing's pollution levels, at least not as often, yet.

You really can feel it in your lungs. People hocking up lougies everywhere in public (sometimes on your shoes if they don't see you walking by). It's a desperate state of affairs IMO.

Meh.. Cool story and all, but Beijing isn't really that bad. Nobody wants to see a picture of a clear sky and yeah, the picture is real. but you will see something like this very rarely.

As a kid growing up in Europe, I remember pollution and acid rain and whatnot being a hot topic on the news every night. Its okay today, but it took time and it will take time in China also, but the government there is doing something about it for sure.

if you also suddenly want to listen to the appropriate background music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwhZ11lcOJQ

The background image, on the other hand, looks an lot like the False Creek neighborhood of Vancouver, Canada.

Ironically Vancouver is deeply sepia toned this morning, not too unlike the Bejing photo, due to a nearby forest fire. I've never seen anything like it.


I took the opportunity to safely stare at the haze-dimmed Sun through a pair of binoculars.

Are you sure it's not Central City?


That's likely, since the profile user is from Vancouver.

Going back home from China always feels like you just changed draw distance in a game.

anyone know what time of day this is?

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