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Crazy Bad in Beijing—Fog or Smog?

Photo sequence from December 2–5, 2011.

One picture is worth ten thousand words.

This disturbing sequence, photographed December 2–5 from the same spot in Beijing, captures stunning changes in the air quality of China’s capital.

Was it fog or smog? Just the weather, or damaging evidence of pollution?

No answer yet—but air filters and pollution mask sales are booming.

Beijing’s air quality makes Los Angeles’s seem like Cheyenne’s.

“Hope these masks are working, Mei. It’s Crazy Bad out here today.”

The latest unusually poor air quality—in Beijing and beyond—caused much public concern. It triggered a blogging battle too.

This Guardian article gives some good background. Plus, it examines the disconnect between what the US Embassy in Beijing measures and reports via its Twitter account (@BeijingAir) versus the official pollution statistics released by the Chinese government.

The ministers are surely not enamored with social media.

The “Crazy Bad” Incident

Last year, @BeijingAir tweeted the city’s air quality was “Crazy Bad” when one metric surged past 500—about 20 times higher than WHO guidelines.

“Crazy Bad” is not the typical sober and scientific language used in the stream so it created a bit of an incident. The joke term was coded in the monitoring software—for an unlikely “way off the scale” reading.

“Crazy Bad” replaced with “Beyond Index” on the @BeijingAir Twitter stream.

US officials quickly replaced “Crazy Bad” with “Beyond Index” but not before the original was widely retweeted by shocked Beijingers.

Some welcomed this dose of reality. They were already aware of and dismayed by the government’s incomplete air quality information.

Any good news here?

Yes. China’s Environment Ministry recently committed to accelerate the disclosure of hidden or missing data about the two forms of pollution most harmful to humans: ozone and tiny particulate matter known as PM2.5.

We expect that report to be coming sooner rather than later.

Otherwise, Beijingers may get “Crazy Mad” with the government.

Filed under environment