Beijing’s pollution problem is getting worse by the day.
On Wednesday, the Chinese capital issued its highest “red fog alert” for only the second day in history, keeping highways closed in and around the city which is already under a smog alert after weeks of choking winter pollution. China’s weather bureau warned of visibility of less than 50 meters in some areas, leading many airports to cancel flights.
The heavily polluted Hebei province, which surrounds most of Beijing, said on Tuesday it had ordered all polluting firms in Tangshan, China’s biggest steel-producing city to the east of Beijing, to shut down which likely means that China is in for a substantial “manufacturing” shock in the coming months.
Hebei, which was home to seven of China’s 10 smoggiest cities in 2015, will build the world’s biggest dust prevention barrier, stretching nearly two miles, at the major coal port of Qinhuangdao in a bid to cut pollution, state media said on Wednesday.
For now, however, China is very much defenseless against the toxic byproduct of its rapid industrialization, which also happens to be a major factor permitting the Chinese economy to grow at the goalseeked 6-7% level or somewhere thereabouts. Unfortunately for Beijing, it’s a choice of either stable manufacturing growth or clean air: the two are mutually exclusive.
And nowhere was that more visible today, so to speak, than near the port of Tianjin, where according to the Beijing Evening News, a large cruise ship with more than 2,000 people on board was stuck at sea for two days because it was unable to dock in the heavy smog that has enveloped much of northern China. The vessel finally returned to the Port of Tianjin on Monday afternoon after drifting for two days at sea. The thick air pollution had earlier made it impossible to safely berth the vessel, according to the article
A passenger was quoted as saying that the ship was scheduled to return on New Year’s Eve after traveling to South Korea and Japan. But she was told by the crew that the ship could not dock as visibility was severely compromised by the smog. She said the passengers had been unsure how long they would be stuck at sea but were grateful there was plenty of entertainment on board to kill time.
“Unlike passengers who are stuck at some public facilities like an airport, we got to use the pool and the gym to keep ourselves busy,” she said.
As Reuters adds, poor visibility prompted three major northern ports to suspend the loading of ships on Tuesday, maritime safety agencies said.
Unless Beijing’s leadership is willing to take draconian measures to curb smog production, which inevitably means an economic slowdown, expect scenes such as the ones shown below to continue.
It’s started snowing in Beijing. What do you call smoggy snow? Smow? Snog? pic.twitter.com/BKWGYufidu
— Chris Buckley ??? (@ChuBailiang) January 5, 2017
Beijing out my window – the air has taste and texture today. pic.twitter.com/QoZWH20f4E
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) January 5, 2017
Beijing from the air as smog blankets the city. Just otherworldly – and alarming pic.twitter.com/P8oTLRFomR
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 4, 2017