Far from dodging the issue of the environment, the mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun, recently called his own city "unlivable" due to air pollution caused by industry, driving, and a population boom.

Most days the city is shrouded in smog and particulate matter 2.5, which is the most dangerous to human health, is many times higher than levels recommended as safe by the World Health Organization.

In 2013, the US embassy in Beijing committed a gaffe by tweeting that the air pollution, normally ranked on a scale of one to five hundred, had gone off the charts, reaching a new level of "crazy bad." Although that assessment may have been correct, it failed to meet the diplomatic tone expected of American embassies.

Today, the market research company Euromonitor claims that tourism to Beijing has dropped ten percent from the previous year, identifying pollution and a slowing economy as the primary causes.

Because China's central government has ultimate authority, in 2014 it was able to single-handedly close 392 companies for causing pollution and took 476,000 old vehicles off the roads. A year earlier, the government banned the creation of any new coal-fired power plants in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (the nation's three most important cities).

The gains expected from such restrictions, however, have been slow to materialize. Beijing has a city of 21.5 million people with an annual population increase of approximately 350,000. As car ownership has become popular and construction efforts accommodate new residents, Anshun had to concede last Friday that "At the present time, Beijing is not a liveable city."

In his Big Think interview, Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei discusses what challenges China faces in its quest to become a "great nation":

Read more at the Guardian

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