Hello again from Aim2D a real time, 24/7 China Business, Marketing, Tech and Social Media News Portal of Bic Brands based in sunny Shunyi. Tuesdays we take a look at business, marketing, tech or social news in and around China. Friday is image gallery
Today, Friday 20th May we are revisiting an older post re the dust storms in China, initially created following one of the worst dust storms in Beijing in several years. Once an infrequent thing of the past, global warming is seeing them on the comeback trail. So it was brief, short on detail.
Occasionally, usually on a Friday, we get a bit carried away and end up with double our usual 600 word sized posts. It also often includes links to sites with further detailed information. An opportunity, if you will, to learn more and see life more through the eyes of your Chinese customers. Short story: it can end up as a long read. So we suggest you boil up the billy, make a pot of nice green tea, settle down with a bar of Taitau dark chocolate and enjoy our Tea N Chocolate Bar offering!
China: Dust, Sand, or Smog?
Actually, to play fair and give recognition where it is due, this follow up was inspired by a comment from Steve – “Change Therapy” on our earlier post below:
Again to be honest, Steve and Aim2D have what the Chinese call a “relationship” or professional friendship. Some of his posts have served for inspiration for us to spin them from a business perspective and write about them here. However, today’s re boot stemmed from a recent comment from Steve:
The Yellow Dust I presumed was smog, associated with pollution. Informative post thank you.
Clearly we could have done a better job, so, with that in mind, let’s begin a reboot.
Today we are revisiting an old image gallery post and digging a little deeper into China’s air the issue and solutions it entails.
China’s “Yellow Dust.”
Steve was partially right. Mass media has always focused on the the worst side of China so people automatically think of smog or pollution when any form of air quality in China is mentioned. However, in the context of the post, “Yellow Dust” was the term given to sandstorms that swept across from the Gobi desert back in 2000 when The Bic was in South Korea. These originated from over grazing and poor land husbandry practises in the nomadic regions of North West China resulting in “desert creep,” encroachment on dry, tired out pasture. Or desertification as the experts call it.
Yellow Dust earned the moniker from its colour and land of origin.
Around a decade later, an intensive campaign of soil retention planting and better education of local farmers has seen sand storms in China, largely a thing of the past. However as one “plague” was controlled, China, in particular, north China, became victim of another, rather similar problem. Dust storms. Also human created.
China Dust Storms are Seasonal.
That is they are more common during the change of seasons as the land mass either cools or heats up, creating a vacuum. Nature, hating any form of vacuum, reacts by filling it with air, creating wind – more often gale force. The intensity and frequency of dust storms coincided with China’s massive increase in construction, both commercial and residential. Greed hungry developers would create huge construction sites, void of vegetation, covered with mounds of fresh dug earth. Strong winds would pickup the lose soil forming low level, dark, menacing clouds intermixed with other debris; broken branches, twigs, leaves, contents of overturned rubbish bins, and their lids, the ubiquitous plastic bags, and the occasional share bike skidding along the pavement, borne along by the strong wind as a boat under sail.
Brilliantly warm, bright, clear days were almost instantly transformed into near zero visibility post apocalyptic nightmares. Then, almost as suddenly as they came, they departed, leaving behind streets and trees littered with rubbish. Gvt reacted by enacting environmental protection legislation. Firstly banning the one use plastics – by degrees – and mandating for developers and the like to take action to prevent unnecessary disturbances of top soil and limited the exposure of such to the winds.
Today you will oft see huge swathes of land covered in fine green mesh to reduce the exposure to wind. Hopefully illustrated center ground in our head image – shot from our window across a new development close to Beijing Capital Airport. Of course, human nature being what it is, there are still rogue developers who ignore this. Air patrols periodically inspect construction sites and breaches are met with a fine.
At the same time, there has been a big uptick in afforestation in China whilst some of the Covid stimuli policies fostered the creation of greener public parks and walkways. By and large, the severity and frequency of massive dust storms in Beijing has been noticeably reduced. Until recently that is.
As noted in our original post, dust storms are making a comeback, thanks largely it seems, to global warming. According to science, global warming is set to continue so perhaps we can realistically expect to see more frequent dust storms? Not just here in China but globally as once were lush, green pastures are turned into dry, arid, lifeless, barren, windswept moonscapes?
China “Bad Hair Days”
The above expression, coined somewhere in the 1970s, has come to mean a time when things don’t go right. Or perhaps, when everything goes wrong. China’s equivalent is a “Bad Air Day.” Meaning is clearly obvious. When the Bic first arrived in China, 2000, bad air was relatively unknown, most days were clear and bright. Some days low level pollution created a haze but it was nothing to be overly alarmed about. Certainly not to the Jack the Ripper days in older London. Private cars were something of an amazement and extreme luxury!
Over several years, as China grew stronger, wealthier and busier the problem escalated until, not unlike the UK and it’s fascination with the weather, the air was the standard topic of daily Chinese conversation. As levels went from moderate (yellow) unhealthy (red) to hazardous (brown) and then off the grid, local Gvts began closing schools, warning the elderly and ill against out door movement and mandating constructions sites to shut down to protect their workers. Sales of in home air purifiers boomed, one of the most popular websites became the Air Quality Index.
The problem intensified during the North China winter when coal fired boilers were the primary source of heat – both residential and commercial. Consequent public pressure, anger, protests and social media criticism led to Gvt closing down inefficient factories and low grade coal mines. China invested heavily in wind and solar energy farms while offering big subsidies and incentives to switch from petrol driven ICE vehicles to EV or NEV.
In Shunyi (a district of Beijing) we would estimate that close to 30% of traffic on the roads today is either EV or NEV. From private cars to busses and taxis, vans, medium size lorries. Public take up of share bikes, both pedal and electric has also increased. Many local bodies have laid dedicated, recycled car tyre bike lanes alongside roads to encourage this trend.
Hand in hand with these development has seen Chinese became increasingly aware of health, welfare, fitness and exercise. The once were dark, dingy “gyms”, smelling equally of stale sweat and urine, largely frequented by guys who seemed to toss busses around in their free time, and who you hoped you never met on a dark night, suddenly became trendy. They morphed into a maze of glittering mirrors, soft lighting and pastel decors. Clientele became sweet little things in designer leotards or sportswear. Social media blossomed with selfies, on the mat, the tread mill, bars etc.
Those less concerned about posing took to the many new walking or running tracks constructed in new afforestation areas built close to dormitory suburbs. As mentioned above, come summer weekends, Beijing’s roads become clogged – not so much with motor cars, but groups or families on share bikes.
Most old, inefficient and poorly built Soviet era and beyond housing blocks have been demolished. Residents have moved into new, modern, better insulated apartments constructed nearby. New residential complexes are now built with electric fired boilers whilst existing compounds were give a timeline to upgrade. Shunyi shifted to electricity back in 2019. Many new housing complexes in coastal regions with high sunlight hours (Shandong, Jiangsu) were mandated to be built with solar panels.
So, to summarise, pollution or smog in China is largely thought of as “bad air” the stuff with the life threatening PM 2.5 range of pollutants. Compared with a decade back this has improved considerably. Primary offenders are still industry and petrol driven vehicles combined with Beijing’s land locked basin situation.
Sandstorms are or were the result of poor farm management in China’s North East resulting in sand being blow off the Gobi desert and carried on thermals. Education and plantings have reduced these considerably.
Dust storms occur most frequently during changes of season. They are a collection of top soil from exposed earthworks mixed with general rubbish whipped up by and carried on gales force winds. They come and go relatively quickly and are classified as PM 10 level pollutants. Unhealthy and dirty but not necessarily life threatening.
Now, do you come from a culture where laws are debated in parliament or such, challenged and veto’d by the opposition, pass through committees, select committees, Royal commissions, working groups, before being sent back for modification to start the entire process over before finally passed when no one can remember the reason for them? Then China has one more learning curve for you.
Things change quickly in China, sometimes, literally overnight. What is blue today is yellow tomorrow. You need to do plenty of research and keep it topical. A successful business in China is agile – quick on their feet.
Thanks for reading, we encourage robust discussion, debate or questions, but please play nice people. Finally, again a big THANK YOU to Steve for the initial push to research this and develop it further. In case you missed it this is the link to the image gallery that sparked Steves’ question: Grim Skies Over Northern China(Caixin Global)
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