By Simon Kuper
If you were offered a nice job in Delhi, would you take it? The Indian capital’s air is so polluted that it could cost the average long-term resident nine years of life expectancy, estimates the University of Chicago. Or would you live near London’s Brixton Road, where pollution is many times higher than European legal limits? You might hesitate, especially if you had asthma, or small children.
Air pollution — both indoor and outdoor — has soared up the urban agenda. Exposure to fine particles in polluted air contributes to 7m premature deaths worldwide a year, often through heart disease, stroke or lung cancer, estimates the World Health Organization. That’s about the same as the toll from tobacco, or 15 times recent annual deaths from war and homicides combined. Fine particulate air pollution also seems to increase the incidence of dementia, according to research by the US National Bureau of Economic Research and others.
It was the US embassy that put air quality on the agenda in Beijing. About a decade ago, the embassy began publicly posting readings from its air quality monitor. Residents noticed that these often “conflicted with the level of air quality reported by the city government”, note Michael Greenstone and Patrick Schwarz of the University of Chicago. Local concern mounted as the air worsened. By 2013, Beijing’s average PM2.5 concentrations were nine times the level that the WHO considered safe. Parents kept their children indoors, installed air purifiers at home and planned holidays in “clean air destinations”, according to the Chicago report. Beijing’s “smogapocalypse” may have peaked in the winter of 2012/2013, as nitrogen dioxide wafted over from coal-burning plants on the north China plain.
Continue reading at The Financial Times…