Can’t clear the air

We’re staying indoors today. Voluntarily. With the air purifier turned way, way up. Here’s why, in a photo from a friend:

Dragon boat practice on Dushu Lake (which is less than a mile from our front door). Those are buildings in the distance, if you can spot them. I will attend dragon boat practice tomorrow.

The air quality index (AQI) is over 400 here in Suzhou, just days after a horrifying off-the-charts reading of 1000 in Beijing. (Reference point: WHO guidelines suggest daily exposure to an AQI of no more than 50 for PM 10. Our current PM 10 is over 500, so that’s more than ten times the recommended daily exposure.) o_O

Pollutants for today, May 6. Clearly a sharp rise in PM 10.

The sandstorm in the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia is causing most of the sudden rise in PM10. However, the sandstorm is not the root cause: deforestation, overgrazing, and coal use (both mining and burning) cause the dustbowl to rise. (Anyone who has read The Grapes of Wrath knows something about the dustbowl in the United States that was brought on by some of the same reasons in the late 19th and early 20th century.) China is trying to do something about all these problems (maybe not enough), but this most recent dust storm is a case in point about prevention versus a cure…

Worldwide, we need to recognize that air pollution is a tricky thing. It’s not all about cars and emissions. It’s not all about coal-fired power plants. It’s not all about any one specific thing. It’s a complex issue that has to be examined and treated in a holistic way.

And we’re better off recognizing it and making changes to how we function BEFORE things become like this (more) regularly… especially in the U.S. before the environmental standards are trashed by the current administration… especially because the people in charge now aren’t the same ones who will have to deal with the repercussions in the future…

The repercussions are what will threaten to harm or kill all of us, if we’re not careful, poisoning us alongside a generous landscape that can’t take anymore mining or drilling or particulate matter without reacting in a way that harms us in return because we’re already dealing with so many changes (climate or otherwise) that are undeniably the result of human carelessness and progress for the sake of profit.

The air has been decent in the last few days, and by “decent” I mean that I haven’t needed to wear a mask. The rainy evenings have made for somewhat humid mornings, but I accept these damp mornings with breathable air.

Tuesday, May 2 air quality in Suzhou, China: good enough to breathe deeply!

It’s really disappointing to suddenly be thrust into unbreathable air again, no matter the reason. Winter is over, and so are many of the worst pollution days until autumn… and right now it’s warm (70-85ºF), but it’s not too humid. So now that the air is so (SO) bad, it really makes me feel captive to the situation here in China again. The warm weather, of course, makes me want to go outside, but not when I’ll need my respirator.


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