Quora Question: What Is It Like to be Living in Beijing With a 'Red' Alert on Air Quality?

Beijing red alert on air
Woman wearing protective masks walk on a heavily polluted day in Beijing, December 25, 2015. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

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Answer from Karen Ma, who lived a combined 25 years in China and Japan:

I can't help but chime in, because I could feel the terrible smog getting into my throat and lungs last night (when I left to teach) and this morning (when I had to go to my kids' school for something). And yes, my kids' school is one of the few that didn't shut down despite the "red alert" warning, much to their disappointment. I guess the school wants to remind us that they've spent tons of money on an indoor air-safe dome, precisely for days like today. So why let it go to waste?

And as I came home, I could taste the bad air even with my mask on. Seriously, the smog seems much worse yesterday and today even though the concentration of PM2.5 was much higher last week. How is this possible?

When I got on the bus this morning, everyone was wearing a mask. We passed by lines after lines of tall trees shrouded in a think blanket of dusty smog. It looked rather like the aftermath of an earthquake. On quite a few of trees I saw nests, but there was not a single bird to be seen. Just how many birds are dying in this environment? I had to wonder. These days, I find myself wishing for strong winds in the capital, and yes, even if it means bitter cold weather and severe wind chill factor because that's the only hope we dwellers in this city have for a chance of seeing some clear skies.

And while I loathe days like today, I don't agree that Chinese people today are the same people you saw yesterday, who stick their heads in the sand like ostriches, as some people seem to imply. Today, they have a much higher awareness than ever before, and they are intent on exerting enough pressure on the government to bring about changes, much like how the red alert was issued yesterday because of paramount pressure from citizens.

As Ian Johnson pointed out in his article in the New York Review of Books, "Why Pollution is Good for China," there "is a gradual awakening to the fact that becoming the world's factory has made people richer, but poisoned the environment. Think of it as another example of China's slow-motion rising consciousness—the cumulative effect of better education, more money, and more awareness. The government can gloss over rights abuses. It can conduct secretive trials of prominent activists. But it cannot easily hide this kind of air, or blame it on foreigners. And it realizes that if it is seen to be dealing with the issue, the political fallout will be minor."

You can read more about the article here:
Why Pollution is Good for China

What is it like to be living in Beijing right now (December 2015) with the current 'red' alert on air quality?: originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Quora Question: What Is It Like to be Living in Beijing With a 'Red' Alert on Air Quality? | World