Phone, Wallet, Keys, Facemask

A combo photos show tourists wearing mask at Tiananmen Square in Beijing's continuous smog day. 30JAN13 == Photo by Simon Song ==

Imagine if those Summerly “code oranges” you’ve experienced in Atlanta ended up adding one more step to your daily packing list: a facemask. In Beijing, China, climate change is up-close and personal, with a literal smack in the face to its 20 million inhabitants.

Beijing’s smog lays a thick residue that dims the city’s vantage point to a monotonous pastel – a backdrop for the sight of 5 million buzzing vehicles.[2] The color may change with the sun, but always with a gray undertone. It’s grim for a reason – high ozone levels produced by air pollution can lead to asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease. [3]

During a leisurely stroll through the city, Ma Jun reminds us that “environmental issues have been the biggest reason for mass demonstrations.” Accompanied by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ma Jun is the founding director of the China’s Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, and provides insight to China’s current situation on a segment of DiCaprio’s new documentary film, Before the Flood.

The Shandong Peninsula is an industrially dense area that encompasses no more than 1/50 of the total land mass of China. Along with the southeastern side of Beijing, the Shandong Province, just slightly bigger than the state of Georgia, produces more coal pollution than the entire United States.


China has recently surpassed the United States as the world’s number one polluter, still facing the daunting amount of energy needed to stabilize the populous country.

The situation in and around Beijing (Peking) has become so drastic recently that public schools have skipped days and people fear getting cancer just from their polluted commute. The struggles of unsustainable production in Chinese factories has made its way into mainstream Chinese media and is finding its way into the conversation of watchdogs.

China has taken the number one spot in production of green resources, leading to a recent reformation in China’s renewable energy sector. The focus on wind and solar is now much more apparent, with total investments in China exceeding the United States and Europe combined. [1]


To put the amount of need in perspective, The Shandong Province imported $280 million dollars in coal from North Korea from January to September of this year. This comprised 37% of China’s total coal import from its highly criticized trade with North Korea. [6]

Still, compare Shandong’s approximate 400 coal-fired plants with the state of Georgia’s approximate 50 coal-fired plants. This isn’t to say Georgia is better – it’s arguably one of the most coal dependent states, going from $2.7 billion in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2012 for total coal imports. [7]

With close to 9,000 factories in this location of Eastern China, there is difficulty bringing them all into compliance with the proper regulations. Ma Jun has been a proponent of an app that tracks the eco footprint of all the factories in China. This helps break down the veil between producer and consumer – one that hides a reality of non-compliance to safety regulations, seen below.


DiCaprio discusses renewable energy with officials from China, India, and the U.S. in his new documentary. It captures his presentation to the United Nations, as well as several other revealing conversations that place us all in the same boat here on Earth, smacked in the face with “the most important issue facing humanity today.”


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