Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Cold weather brought brutal levels of air pollution to the country's north.
Here's a glimpse at just how bad pollution-related smog has gotten in Harbin, China: The city has closed schools, bus routes, and even the airport. Local hospitals are swamped with patients complaining of breathing problems.
According to Reuters, an index measuring PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers) reached 1,000 in some parts of the city Monday. Anything over 300 is considered hazardous, and the World Health Organization recommends a daily level no higher than 20.
While smog is an ever-present reality in many of China's cities, it becomes particularly bad to the north as winter approaches. When cold weather hits, China's coal plants come to life. But warming the homes of nearly half a billion people can take its toll. Researchers estimate that people who lived in northern China in the 1990s will live about five and half years less than those in the south.
Last month, officials in Beijing (no stranger to smog) announced a plan to reduce air pollution around the country. They proposed cutting coal consumption for primary energy use to under 65 percent by 2017. Last week, city officials in the capital passed an emergency plan for periods where heavy pollution is anticipated for three or more days, enacting driving restrictions according to license plate numbers.
Below, via Reuters, a look at the smog that has taken over much of northern China over the past week: