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Unpredictable air pollution

You just never know what the air pollution will do here. It’s less predictable than the weather. That’s ironic, because unlike the weather, the air pollution is manmade, and therefore controllable. Still, we can never predict what the air quality index (AQI) will be like from day to day, even from hour to hour.

As an example, late last week we had a spout of high-pollution index days. A coworker was planning to take her family to Beijing for the long weekend, and was considering canceling her plans because the air looked so bad. In the end, she decided to go anyway. With winter coming, she figured that if she didn’t go now, they might have to wait until next spring before the weather was good enough to go again. And it’s a good thing that she went, because the air quality in Beijing over the weekend was terrific. Even as I write this on Monday morning, the AQI in Shenyang is 122 (“unhealthy for sensitive groups”), but in Beijing, it’s 29 (“excellent”). Usually Beijing her terrible pollution, but right now, it’s no more polluted than any US city.

I’ve heard from other people that the city-wide heating systems are turned on starting on November 1. Since heat is generated by burning dirty coal, the AQI starts getting dangerous at that time. If that’s true, then we had better take advantage of good air while we can, before we’re confined to the indoors for the winter.

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