Heading to China on Business? Prepare for Bad Air Daze

A hazardous air day in TEDA, Tianjin China, October 2014. Air quality index upwards of 600 PM2.5.

Smogout in TEDA, Tianjin China, November 2014,8:30 a.m. Air quality index: Hazardous. Air quality index +600 PM2.5 vs. The WHO upper safety limit is 25PM2.5.

Planning a business trip to China?

Are you ready to face the air pollution?

Consider packing a face mask protecting you from fine particularate matter (PM 2.5).

You can also find out if your hotel room and working environment is cleaned by an indoor air filter.

Hopefully, you’ve never experienced a bad air day. The scary days, when the air quality is upwards of 300PM2.5. (The World Health Organization’s upper safety limit is 25 PM2.5 over a 24 hour period). The kind of days that make you feel lightheaded and possibly noxious when racing towards a meeting.

Smogouts like this can delay flights, cause schools and businesses to shut down and cancel road traffic.

The kind of days that plague big cities in Eastern China, prompting the government to declare war on air pollution.

Now, in many areas, vehicles can only drive on odd or even days, depending on the licence plate numbers.

Buses and taxies have also converted from diesel fuel to liquified natural gas (LNG) to reduce vehicle emissions.

During the Olympics, Beijing increased subway lines from two to nine, so it is now easy to zip around the city, particularly in non-rush hour times. So if you’re booking meetings, consider booking later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon.

An Early Morning Smogout: October 2014

Bad air days often come in the winter when the heat has been turned on.

See this late October image?

That’s what a truly bad air day in China looks like. On this October 2014 morning, I had a meeting with a client in Tianjin. After dropping my toddler off at his babysitter’s house, I began walking toward the train station. In the middle of the Aeon Mall parking lot, the smog grew so thick, I couldn’t see.

But I could hear.

Buses, cars, taxies and trucks barreling through the parking lot. If you’ve ever crossed a street in China, you know it can be treacherous. Vehicles have the right of way. Pedestrians are expected to move. Twice, I’ve been clipped by taxies. Both times pushing my stroller.

In a panic, I raced towards the mall. It was only about 20 feet away.

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Lost in a Chinese Smogout.

Finally, I hit the sidewalk and the mall emerged. I snapped a few shots with my phone.

I’m a Canadian who grew up in a city in the high north, surrounded by rocks, forest and freshwater lakes bigger than seas. Air was only an issue during forest fire season.

In China, air is always a concern. With factories billowing, millions and millions of vehicles on the roads, and people heating homes and cooking by coal fires, the air is frightening.

Over time, living with bad air days has become easier. Sometimes, I forget. It’s only when the wind blows, the sky turns blue and the sun is yellow that I remember how a sky, and a sun, are supposed to look.

‘APEC Blue’

When APEC came to China, the factories were turned off, traffic was tightly controlled and coal burning reduced. After five or six days, the sky turned blue and the air quality improved.

We saw the sun. And we needed it because it was cold. The government had delayed turning on the heat for a week.

The¬†conference was nicknamed ‘APEC Blue’.

Pollution From ‘Over There’ Eventually Comes ‘Over Here’

I’m lucky.

So are my kids.

We were all born in Canada. While we’re loving our time in China, I know we won’t be here for long. Our passports allow us to pass through many of the world’s borders as though they were water. The same borders that might as well be cement for others.

At home, a lot of people ask me why I care about what happens ‘over there’. It’s because for me, China isn’t ‘over there’, it’s ‘over here’.

Pollution doesn’t respect borders. Air, wind and water don’t stop at the outer limits of China. Almost everything in my country is made here, in China.

Everyone deserves clean air.

Everyone, everywhere deserves clean air.

Besides, my son plays with a little girl who lives beneath the stairs of our building. Her mother and I can’t speak a word to each other, but she was one of the first people to welcome me to the area. And now that I know these people, I can’t go home and forget what life is like here.

I don’t want to forget, I want to help change it, as the government and many businesses are doing here.

So, I ride a bus running on liquefied natural gas (LNG), which burns much cleaner than diesel fuel. We have no vehicle here, but take public transit or taxies, and we bring our own bags to the grocery store.

And I write about for and about global green business and the environment.

Everyone deserves clean air and heat in the winter.

If you had to choose between clean air and heat in the winter, what would you choose?

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