Anyone living in Beijing knows that the climate is not one of the city’s appeals. The pollution is the worst in the world relative to the city’s amenities. Beijing’s harsh, dry winters are also renowned, highlighted by snowy gardens from November to March. At sub-zero winter temperatures, only the dry climate and heating systems help. During the summer, humidity gets its revenge, settling on an unbearable 105 degrees. And yet these extremes are tolerable because they’re part of the changing of seasons, disagreeable yet natural. Instead, the city literally turns orange in the spring. The wind carries sand from the desert, but the cropped trees can’t defend the city like they did for centuries. Beijing borders the Gobi Desert, an immense arid expanse that lies in Mongolian territory. On the most exposed days, it’s impossible to see further than a few meters, it’s as if lacquer is smeared on the streets and buildings. In any case, the sand-carrying wind bears a great benefit: it blows away the city’s pollution. The grey cloud that generally dominates Beijing is practically permanent. It’s a toxic mixture, the result of many components. Tens of millions of people live in Beijing and are consuming like never before in their history; homes are still heated with coal; 5 million vehicles dump their emissions into the air; smokestacks still fill the capital’s skyline. The situation is already intolerable. The worries are multiplying, revelations are dramatic, and many expats have abandoned the city. A study conducted in 2013 by the US’ National Academy of Sciences revealed that life expectancies in northern China have been reduced by 5 years as a result of the pollution.
Obviously, authorities are running for cover. Heavy industries have moved outside of the city’s boundaries, traffic is sometimes reduced, and alternative energy sources are encouraged. If the environmental problems are serious, the attempt to resolve them is even more so. Beijing is awaiting the measures’ results, which are even more pronounced by scientific data. Instead, the wind’s path seems to betray expectations, because it’s not always able to clean the sky of carbon dioxide particles. Ironically, scientists discovered that the wind blowing across Beijing has weakened because of the attempts to popularize wind energy. A recent analysis by the prestigious China Weather Net (a state-run think tank that unites Chinese and US scientists) has surprisingly established that wind farms reduce the wind’s velocity. They capture its strength but inhibit its beneficial clearing effects on Beijing’s sky. Limitless wind farms dot China’s northern territory. Their surface area in Inner Mongolia increased 31-fold from 2007 to 2014. The consequences for Beijing—perceptible even by laypeople—have been direct and immediate. Therefore, it seems that China is aggravating its situation while trying to relieve it. In reality, the country is the biggest wind energy producer in the world, its investments are colossal, but results have not aligned with expectations. There are delays, inefficiencies, resistance, and unexpected findings like those of the China Weather Net. It’s one of the many inconsistencies plaguing the world’s biggest polluter and biggest spender in terms of dedicating resources to environmental protections. It means the stakes are very high because China was negligent in the past—when it was anxious to grow its GDP—and now it’s probably too late to fix its mistakes quickly.