Yes, That “Fog” Really Is Pollution…But There’s An App for That!

Purple Haze in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China makes me really not want to kiss the sky at all. Photo taken Dec 1st, 2015 at around 7PM China time by Vance Trendov. (Caption thanks to Jimmy Hendrix)

Purple Haze in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China makes me really not want to kiss the sky at all.
Photo taken Dec 1st, 2015 at around 7PM China time by Vance Trendov. (Caption thanks to Jimmy Hendrix)

This article originally appeared on Patrick Delaney’s blog here.

I arrived in Beijing at around 8PM on Monday, Nov 30th 2015 after a long and grueling flight from Minneapolis via Detroit and Anchorage. The flight in Detroit was heavily delayed and re-routed through Anchorage, Alaska of all places…much to my surprise. The captain came on the loudspeaker just prior to take off, explaining why:

Folks ahh…we’re sorry about the delay here, uh, we’re having a bit of a delay and we’re going to need a stop off in Anchorage to re-fuel.  There’s ahh…heavy air pollution at our destination so we’re going to need a little bit of extra in case of the need for an overshoot.  Ahh…Thanks for flying Delta and we’re happy to have you aboard.

Basically the low visibility being caused by pollution in Beijing might have required an overshoot – necessitating extra fuel to bring us to some other, less polluted city…perhaps Seoul, or maybe even Gary, Indiana.

When we landed and got off the plane into the airport there was a distinct, “angle-grindery” odor. Beyond the purple / brownish / grey haze you see everywhere walking around the city, I kept noting this distinct lighter-colored, “indoor” haze in all sorts of interior areas which we visited – the train station, the airport, and large buildings.

There’s an App for That

If you’re from Minnesota like me, then you are either likely obsessed with talking about the weather or know someone who is obsessed with talking about the weather.  But whereas in Minnesota we’re talking about whether it’s going to either snow or be 90 degrees in October, in China it’s all about the AQI – the Air Quality Index.

There’s an app called Air Quality China which shows you this weather metric, so that you can take different types of actions – such as wear a mask, stay inside, or smoke some filtered cigarettes to clean out your lungs a bit.

LEFT: Air Quality Index for Thursday morning at about 6AM Beijing time. RIGHT: Air Quality China shows you the air quality in real-time. Tuesday is shown on the left, ranking from “Green” (Healthy) to “Grey” (You’re Dead).

LEFT: Air Quality Index for Thursday morning at about 6AM Beijing time. RIGHT: Air Quality China shows you the air quality in real-time. Tuesday is shown on the left, ranking from “Green” (Healthy) to “Grey” (You’re Dead).

There’s Also an Internet-of-Things Device For That

I’m here with my friend Vance Trendov from Minnesota, and we were very fortunate to be able to go visit an old buddy of mine from the UMN – Justin Kwan, who has been living in China since 2007. He runs a company he founded called Principle M – which features bespoke suits, mostly for the Beijing market. I definitely recommend that you check them out if you’re ever in Beijing. He showed me an interesting device he keeps at his office and home – the XiaoMi smart air purifier – Mi Air Purifier.

Justin Kwan with Xiaomi Air Purifier at the office.

Justin Kwan with Xiaomi Air Purifier at the office.

This purifier is WiFi connected, and app-controllable.  Obviously the pollution levels are not always, 100% in the, “Grey/Death” range – so you can control the air purifier remotely and shut it off from anywhere in the world. This saves Mi Air Purifier customers energy at their home and office. Interestingly…on a grand scale, if everyone were to use this device there would be a tiny bit less pollution because a lot of the pollution in the colder regions of China comes from coal-fired power plants.

I woke up Wednesday morning and surprisingly, it was 100% clear, blue skies. The wind had pushed the pollution away. You can see that reflected on the app shown above in this article. So in effect, Beijing’s problems have temporarily been put on someone else’s lap – some other part of China, or perhaps Korea or the ocean. Long-term, the Chinese government has a plan to reduce pollution – but with this week’s extreme highs it seems like they have a long way to go.

The north end of a Forbidden City Palace on Dec 2nd, 2015, the day after the sky had cleared after a period of high AQI.

2 Comments

  1. Mark Adams on January 14, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Stunned China can’t make their industry not muck up their air. Hope you had a good trip anyway!

  2. Patrick Delaney on January 14, 2016 at 9:48 am

    There are massive dis-incentives inherent in how the current Chinese society is organized which prevent penalizing sources of high pollution. Also, as mentioned briefly above much of the area in the colder parts of the country is coal-heated, so warmer parts of the country that I ended up visiting didn’t have this same issue during this time of year.

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