How Do You De-Smog A City? China’s Creative Pollution Solutions

Photo courtesy of erhard.renz via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

Air pollution poses health risks to hundreds of millions of people all over the world, and in the case of smog, the consequences can be extremely severe.

It’s a problem big cities across the globe have dealt with, usually as a result of CO2 emissions and other pollutants from factories, power plants, and heavy traffic. These gases take form as heavy smog when combined with sunlight and heat.

While cities such as New York and London have experienced fatal smogs, notably in the ‘50s and ‘60s, China’s current situation is catastrophic and ongoing, with a smog so thick scientists say it is stopping photosynthesis and creating conditions resembling a “nuclear winter.”

China’s suffering atmosphere is due in part to their being the world’s top coal burner, which despite their efforts and accomplishments in renewable energy will only continue to increase along with energy demand – which we’ve written about here.

How do you de-smog a city?

Smog solutions aren’t simple, to be sure. In 1952, London’s smog caused over 4,000 deaths in the course of only four days, in what is still considered the world’s worst air pollution disaster, the Telegraph says.

Upon realization that London’s smoggy nightmare, dubbed the Great Smog, cost them hundreds of millions of pounds a year, the country set up the 1956 Clean Air Act. This banned black smoke emissions, prompting conversions to smokeless fuel, and more trees planted.

It was an imperfect solution, as London continued, and continues still to experience smog on a milder basis.

But China’s situation will not be so easy. Rather than being confined to one region, it’s pervasive throughout the massive country, with the Guardian reporting smog in nine cities worse than that in the capital, Beijing.

Here are some methods China is implementing, testing, or considering:

  • Turning to cleaner energy in favor of coal, setting the goal to produce 15% of its energy using renewable fuel by 2020, closing down out-dated coal plants or converting them to gas.

  • Planning policies setting limits on coal use and removing all “high-polluting” vehicles from roads by 2015.

  • Creating environmental taxes and fines to impose severe financial penalties on the polluters, demanding accountability and compensation for damages.

  • Testing an anti-smog drone, which would release a chemical catalyst and create artificial wind currents to disperse smog.

  • Building a gigantic smog chamber, which would recreate smog conditions to allow scientists to test solutions.

  • Offering over $800 million in rewards for air pollution solutions.

  • Pumping liquid nitrogen into the air, which would absorb heat from the atmosphere, condensate, and drag down the pollution.

Jennifer Markert