“Is this UC Beijing?” No, it’s not.
“Is this UC Berkeley, or UC Beijing?”
I saw a question like this posted on the Berkeley overheard page, and I’ve seen memes and snapchat captions a dime a dozen. To be honest, I’m furious.
See, I’ve lived in Beijing. I love Beijing. I love it so much that in my heart, I call it Baejing. I spent a year there in high school (2014-15), and I went back for eight weeks last summer. Beijing air has a terrible reputation, but did you know air quality has actually drastically INCREASED over the past few years?
When I lived in Beijing in 2014 the air was bad. I lived on the 14th floor of an apartment building, and there were days I would step onto the balcony, look down, and not be able to see the ground through the haze. I couldn’t see across the street.
I remember one day, looking left to see if the subway was coming. I couldn’t see anything but haze.
Days the pollution was above 300 AQI, I was encouraged to stay inside with air purifiers, and avoid exercising. I remember several of my classmates staying at home when the AQI was almost 500. I remember a dust storm (coming off the Sahara) that raised levels to 900, and everything being an orange haze.
I remember the 2014 APEC conference, when President Obama came to visit, and how blue the skies were. The government shut down factories, stopped cremating people, and enforced rules about cars only driving every other day (if your license plate was odd, you could drive Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Sunday and if it was even you could drive Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday). The skies were beautiful, called “APEC Blue” by Beijingers on wechat.
Winter is always relatively bad in Beijing. Not only is it cold (being pretty far north geographically), but Beijing is also surrounded by a ring of mountains that trap polluted air, and keep it hovering above the city, contributing to its infamously high AQI. I went back to visit during the summer, knowing what I was seeing wasn’t the worst, but I’d still like to share several things I noticed, and have read about.
Beijing is doing much better in terms of air pollution than it was several years ago. They’ve invested heavily in their public transportation systems (their subways are amazing!). The biggest difference I noticed personally was an increase in bike culture. There are public bikes everywhere that you can scan with your phone and ride for just pennies an hour! By using a combination of the subway, bus, and public bike system, if you live in inner rings of Beijing, you can get almost anywhere.
China is leading the world in terms of investing in clean energy. They’re researching wind and hydrogen power, really anything that can act as a potential alternative to coal. They’ve gone so far as to shut down coal mines, which raises prices.
A police force has been established just to focus on enforcing pollution regulations. Factories not up to standards are shut down.
Beijing has lowered PM 2.5 by a third since 2015. I find that absolutely incredible, and want to encourage others to see how much time, energy, and capital China is investing in clean energy.
Air quality in Beijing is rapidly improving. UC Beijing? I think not.