'AQI 430, Shanghai', shows air pollution in China, with an Air Quality Index at the 'Hazardous' level. Photo: Benedikt Partenheimer

By Nick Kirkpatrick
2 March 2015

(Washington Post) – China is disappearing into a haze of pollution. In the capital, it’s a “life-or death situation,” as Beijing’s mayor bluntly put it in January. In February, he went so far as to declare his city unlivable.

“Everyone must decide for himself if he wants to care about something,” artist Benedikt Partenheimer told In Sight. Partenheimer’s photographs, Particulate Matter, call attention to China’s decades-old air-pollution problem. “Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives,” Partenheimer said. “I personally think that this is a very good reason to care.”

In recent years, China has changed the way it talks about its pollution problem. The government publishes updates in real time on the degree of air pollution in the Air Quality Index (AQI). The index rates the smog labels such as “good,” “unhealthy” and “hazardous.”

Partenheimer’s series uses AQI as a reference for the viewer:

AQI 0-50 – Good
AQI 51-100 – Moderate
AQI 101-150 – Unhealthy for sensitive groups
AQI 151-200 – Unhealthy
AQI 201-300 – Very unhealthy
AQI 300-500 – Hazardous

Particulate Matter, the name of Partenheimer’s series, is also known as particle pollutionfine particulates of chemicals, metals, acids, soil, and dust that contribute to the city’s haze and are small enough to infect the bloodstream and trigger asthmatic attacks.

“Of course one can feel the effects of air pollution,” Partenheimer said about working on the project. […]

Although China is trying to curb its carbon emissions, it has a long way to go. Last year, 66 of China’s 74 major cities failed to meet basic standards of air quality. As the New Yorker pointed out, if Beijing reaches its target of reducing particle pollution by 25 percent by the year 2017, it would still have double the Chinese national standard and six times what the World Health Organization recommends.

“I think we have reached a point in history where we seriously have to think about how we want to proceed as a species and how we want to treat the world we inhabit,” Partenheimer said. [more]

China is disappearing

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