Industrialization in Beijing has certainly aggravated the matter, but Beijing is not the first city suffering from its horrible haze. The London smog of 1952 caused 12,000 total deaths, resulting in the Clean Air Act of 1956, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Manhattan suffered particularly poor air quality in the 1960s, affecting the eastern edge of the U.S.
Because of the government’s concerted effort to encourage consumption and help its residents achieve a higher standard of living in previous five-year plans, new cars congested the roads as fast as they were paved. Over the past decade, sales accelerated from less than 5 million vehicles in 2002 to nearly 20 million in 2012. About 114 million automobiles are now registered to Chinese residents, with ownership exceeding 1 million across 17 Chinese cities.
As we’ve discussed many times, the country is also the world’s largest energy consumer, with a huge dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal. You may think that the country’s use of coal would be the single largest factor driving air pollution, but, in Beijing, emissions from vehicles make up a bigger percentage. One-fifth of the fine particulate matter, which is made up of nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals and dust particles, comes from automobile and truck emissions in the city, according to JPMorgan. Across the entire country, automobiles cough out 27% of total nitrogen oxide emissions.
With residents dealing with increasing cancer-causing pollutants and vehicle congestion on roads, public discontent is rising, “adding particular urgency to causes such as environmental protection and public sector reform,” says JPMorgan.