15 August 2015

Berkeley Earth sounds alarm on air pollution in China

Source: Berkeley Earth website.

Berkeley Earth has published research in the refereed journal PLOS ONE showing that air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people daily in China, accounting for 17% of all deaths in the country. The air for 38% of the population would be considered "unhealthy" by US standards, said the non-profit organisation, which was set up to study concerns from global warming sceptics.

Berkeley Earth analysed hourly measurements of 1,500 ground stations over four months, and found that the source of PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller, is most likely to be coal. PM2.5 penetrates deeply into lungs and can trigger heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer, and asthma.

"Beijing is only a moderate source PM2.5; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest," says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper. Since the sources aren't local, reducing pollution for the 2022 Olympics may prove difficult, Berkeley Earth says. 

Worldwide, air pollution kills over three million people per year – more than AIDS, malaria, diabetes or tuberculosis. 

"Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today," says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. "When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It's as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour," he said.

Elizabeth Muller, Executive Director of Berkeley Earth, said that solutions include greater use of scrubbers, increased energy efficiency, and switching from coal to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable energy. "Many of the same solutions that mitigate air pollution will simultaneously reduce China's contribution to global warming. We can save lives today and tomorrow," she said.

Berkeley Earth hopes to expand geographic coverage to include more of Asia, the US, and Europe, and to study how sources of air pollution change with time.


View the data set