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Ib Sl Geography – Urban Environments Case Study: Air Pollution in Beijing

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IB SL Geography – Urban Environments
Case Study: Air Pollution in Beijing

1. What evidence is there that Chinese cities in general suffer from air pollution?

Due to Chinas recent exponential economic growth, pollution has been put to one side and has not been a priority in most cases. Air pollution, a negative externality of economic growth, in China’s northern cities exceed the standards of the World Health Organisation by 5 or 6 times.
Respiratory disease, often a result of soot-clogged lungs, is the leading cause of death in China, accounting for 26 per cent of all deaths. Compared to the United States this mortality rate is 5 ½ times worse. A study showed that particles in the Chinese air cause 915,000 premature deaths each year, including those of 300,000 children who die from lung infections. Another 600,000 adults die early of some sort of respiratory blockage and 15,000 fall victim to lung cancer caused by bad, polluted air.

2. Identify the main source of air pollution in Beijing.

The main source of air pollution in Beijing, and in most Chinese cities, is the burning of coal. Coal is the main fossil fuel used for heating, cooking and for industry. China has large reserves of coal, however most of it is of very poor quality, and containing large amounts of sulphur. Over 60% of Beijing's total energy consumption is coal, representing just over 30 million tonnes per annum. Of this total use of coal, 70% of it is consumed by the manufacturing industry, 20% of it consumed by domestic households and the last 10% by other activities such as transport and shops.

3. What is the “heating season” in Beijing, and why is it significant?

The use of coal is highly seasonal in Beijing. Heating is strictly regulated and all heaters are turned on at the beginning of winter on the same date and all are turned off with the arrival of spring. During the “heating season” (when all heaters are turned on, during winter) the average daily consumption of coal rises by 30% above average. Over 1 million small coal pellet stoves and almost 8,000 heating furnaces add pollutants into the atmosphere every winter.
One of the by products of burning coal apart from soot is sulphur dioxide (SO2) and during the “heating season” small stoves and central heating account for 48% of Beijing’s lower atmosphere sulphur dioxide. According to figure 11.127 there is a dramatic increase in sulphur dioxide during the “heating season”. During the “non-heating season” most of the city is covered by 0.50 or less SO3mg/dm2 except for the inner city and the western suburbs where the concentrations are higher at 1+ SO3mg/dm2. Mainly due to the high concentrations of heavy manufacturing industries in the area. On the other hand, during the “heating season” we can see a huge increase in sulphur dioxide levels. According to figure 11.127 SO3mg/dm2 levels are above 3.0 in some areas, with the highest concentrations all located within the inner city/suburbs where most of the population live.

4. What can be done realistically in Beijing to reduce air pollution arising from (a) burning coal, (b) dust, and (c) car exhausts?

The use of better quality coal will mean fewer pollutants will be released when burnt, thus reducing air pollution. The government should encourage people to replace their coal stoves with gas appliances especially for heating during the winter months (heating season). The government could do this by giving subsidies to gas appliances firms or taxing coal-burning appliances. In order to reduce air pollution arising from dust, plants and/or trees should be planted on the outskirts of the city (especially to the north-west where most dust originates from) to act as a natural wind barrier. This will hopefully filter some of the wind and separate the dust and also cause the dust to settle before

reaching the main residential areas. In terms of reducing air pollution from car exhausts, one of the things that could be done is a government policy whereby all idling engines must be turned off or else a fine will be imposed. The government could also impose a tariff to get into the CBD of Beijing as in London today. This will be a huge disincentive to enter the city by vehicle. In addition to this, the government could subsidise public transport and invest more in transports such as underground railways, public buses, cycling routes and even pedestrian areas etc. Anything to further encourage other methods of transport that are more environmentally friendly than the car.
Ultimately, I feel that by increasing awareness of the threats posed by air pollution will lead to a cleaner future as people are more conscious of their actions.

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