Photos: The Smog that Ate Beijing

Beijing’s dismal air quality has repeatedly made headlines, grounding flights and eventually shaming authorities into reforming rose-tinted official readings. One leading meteorologist recently warned that substantial improvement will take decades. Today, Foreign Policy presents a gallery of photos by Sean Gallagher which captures the grim reality of the capital’s ‘crazy bad’ air.

On Jan. 23, Beijing will begin releasing hourly readings of air particulate measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, in an attempt to come clean about the level of pollution that regularly blankets the capital. Pollution is a sensitive subject in China, with state-run media often explaining away the smell of glue and haze so thick it obscures even nearby buildings with the term “fog,” and claiming, unbelievably, that Beijing enjoyed 274 “blue sky days” in 2011. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has shied away from releasing its annual pollution statistics, but it runs a popular Twitter feed measuring the air on an hourly basis.

Environmental photographer Sean Gallagher took all of these photos today, a day the U.S. Embassy’s feed called “hazardous,” which means, among other things, that they recommend children and older adults remain indoors. While the color blue does occasionally feature in the skies above the capital, days like this recur with depressing frequency.

See also Gallagher’s website, the US Embassy’s @BeijingAir twitter feed and Greenpeace’s list of resources for tracking air quality in cities around China and beyond.


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