NASA Images Show Thick Toxic Clouds Over Beijing

In case you missed it, the air quality issue in Beijing is no joke; playing out like a scene from some 20th century environmental disaster novel. Flights are cancelled, roads are blocked with pile-ups, and emergency rooms are packed with residents gasping for air like doomed carp pulled from a local lake.

Pictures of Beijing and its thick bank of poisonous cloud/fog cover have been circulating for a few days, but these just released photos from NASA’s Terra satellite offer a perspective seen nowhere else. 

With its immense population driving a vital economy, China’s under no illusion about the seriousness of the situation. Factories are already ordered to scale back emissions, which means production, and workers are getting sick from their commute.

Seen from here in New York, knee-deep in earnings season, with Wall Street wondering how many iPhones China will buy in the coming months, the pictures tell a startling story. If China can’t continue burning the fossil fuels and crop stubble it’s enjoyed getting where it is today, it could mean a genuine shift in its economic drive.

The shots progress from clear skies with lingering smog and haze on the ground, to dense cloud cover filled with the yellow/grey tint of air pollution. The metric ratings and toxins levels are explained here by NASA, but at its peak Beijing was breathing air three times more toxic than what’s “hazardous to all humans.”

Jan 3 Beijing PollutionJanuary 3, 2013

Photo: NASA

Jan 14 Beijing pollutionJanuary 14, 2013

Photo: NASA

Beijing Pollution ComparedJanuary 3 to January 14 comparison

Photo: NASA

Jan 14 Beijing pollution closeJanuary 14, regional

Photo: NASA

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