Do You Live Where The Air Can Kill You? Check This Map To Find Out - Sean Gallagher - Photographer & Filmmaker | Beijing, China

Do You Live Where The Air Can Kill You? Check This Map To Find Out

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Editorial Photography | No Comments
NASA - Earth Observatory

NASA – Earth Observatory – Click to Enlarge Map

I do live where the air can kill you. Actually, I think I am based in the capital of cities where the air can kill you. Beijing.

According to this map released by NASA, China’s capital isn’t the only city however that suffers from air pollution levels so severe that they pose a major health risk to those that live under the grey skies which regularly envelop them.

According to NASA:

“The map above shows the model estimate of the average number of deaths per 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) per year due to air pollution. The researchers used the difference in pollution levels between 1850 and 2000 as a measure of human-caused air pollution. Dark brown areas have more premature deaths than light brown areas. Blue areas have experienced an improvement in air quality relative to 1850 and a decline in premature deaths. Fine particulate matter takes an especially large toll in eastern China, northern India, and Europe—all areas where urbanization has added considerable quantities of PM2.5 to the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution.”

Air pollution obscures the view from Coal Hill in central Beijing, China.
 view of air pollution over the CCTV building in Beijing, China.
Air pollution obscures the view of the Forbidden City from Coal Hill in central Beijing, China.
A cyclist passes Tiananmen Square on a heavily polluted day in the capital.
Young men pose for pictures on Coal Hill in central Beijing, China. Air pollution obscures the view of the Forbidden City behind them.

It’s a depressing read. For bringing this to your attention on a Monday, I apologise. Not a great start to the week, I admit.

If my colour acuity is up to scratch on this hazy Monday morning in Beijing, it appears that the worst affected areas on the map are north-east China (including Beijing, Tianjin and Shandong Province), Tokyo, Java (Indonesia), northern India (south of the Himalayas), a number of cities in Europe and Mexico City in Central America.

Best Advice for Photographing Air Pollution

#1 Get a Good Mask – The number one priority is to protect yourself. Invest in a good mask that is going to protect you while spending hours outside.
air-pollution-sean-gallagher#2 Get Elevated – To give a sense of being ‘inside’ the smog, try to gain some height, either by walking onto a bridge or going into a high rise building.
#3 Get People in Your Images – I always like to frame people within the environments I photograph them in. This helps to show the relationship between people and their surroundings.

The implications of living in a city, such as Beijing, which is afflicted with severe air pollution, are very real for residents. On bad days, children and the elderly are encouraged not to go outside, visibility drops to a couple of hundred metres and the sun disappears from sight, often for days at a time.

In China, the public are not sitting back anymore about this issue. Particularly severe pollution in January of this year seemed to light a spark amongst the general populace who suddenly turned to blogs and social media about the plight of grey skies. They had had enough. So now the issue is very much in the public’s consciousness and is a topic that regularly comes up in conversations.

In light of this ‘social unrest’, the authorities are taking actions aimes at reducing pollution levels by curbing coal use and regulating polluting vehicles. Time will tell how quickly these changes take affect and how implementation will really affect air quality levels here in north-east China.

Unfortunately, as you can see from the map above, this is not just an issue affecting China. A lot of the locations where this is a severe problem may surprise you. I hope that these new regulations will prove to be one step in the right direction for cleaning up China’s skies.

Will China’s Plan To Reduce Pollution Work? – The Wall Street Journal

Learn More About China’s Current Environmental Issues


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