A Visual Guide to Chinese Air Pollution

At The Atlantic, Tea Leaf Nation’s Charles Zhu interviews Michael Zhao of China Air Daily, which uses photos and satellite images to illustrate day-to-day changes and longer term trends in air quality.

You also include several U.S. cities — what was the reason for that?

The reason I included U.S. cities is because people who have not gone overseas can’t really see what a blue sky is. And when they can click through all the days in New York and Chicago, they can see that skies can be really blue and for a long time. That’s an interesting comparison.

[…] What’s there to be hopeful about?

I want to mention that my boss grew up in New York in the ’40s and ’50s and what he has been telling me is that when he was a kid, the air was very bad in New York City. There were all these smoggy days and when he woke up he could see a layer of soot and dust on the windowsill because New York was burning coal to heat up homes […]

I look at some of the photos from archives, I don’t feel that New York then was as bad as Beijing now. But the point I’m trying to get at is that it’s a very interesting project to be able to capture at this point in time in China with a few sample cities just to show day-by-day what air quality looks like. And I’m pretty sure that government and people and NGOs are trying to work together to get better. So maybe in 10, 20 years we’ll look back at these photos and people will start to appreciate that. Kind of a “you know what, I think we’ve done a good job. We’ve cleaned up, and look at those days.” So that is […] wishful thinking but I think it will be really interesting to see that happen.