Ningbo, one of China’s big coastal cities, has been suffering from severe air pollution in recent years. The pollution has caused concerns for some faculty members and alumni of the University of Indianapolis and Ningbo institute of Technology, Zhejiang University.
On Jan. 26 2014, the Ningbo local news agency, CNNB, released another alert, which forecasted severe air pollution due to the influence of a cold front from northern China.
UIndy maintains a partnership program with Ningbo Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University (NIT), a small-sized Chinese university of 10,000 students. Each semester, several faculty members spend a semester teaching at NIT.
According to Assistant Professor of English Karen Newman, who teaches at NIT each spring, the air pollution has grown worse over time. The first time she taught at NIT, the air was fairly clean, but that has changed.
“The second time I taught at NIT, there was only one day in four months where I clearly saw the mountains that encircle the city, and they are only a few miles away from my apartment,” Newman said. “So it’s clear that the air pollution is a horrific problem in Ningbo.”
Instructor of Religion and Philosophy George Dunn, who has taught at Ningbo since 2008, said that the air pollution this past fall was the worst he has seen.
“The air pollution is terrible in Ningbo. It’s one of the few things that I really dislike about going there,” Dunn said. “I have been teaching in Ningbo for six years and it seems to me that the air pollution has gotten progressively worse over the years.”
Assistant Professor of English Michael Milam, who also has taught in Ningbo for six years, has witnessed the air evolve from clean to smoggy.
“Six years ago, when I first went to Ningbo, I never experienced any smog. Ningbo used to be famous for its clean air not too long ago,” he said. “But I am only there for four months in the fall, and people told me that there had been some really bad smog days in the past. I was just lucky until this time.”
Yuan Fen, an NIT alumna who studied at NIT from 2009 to 2013, complained that she could not go running because of the severe air pollution.
“Ningbo will not be one of the best cities in China, if citizens can not run outside because of the air condition,” she said.
There are many reasons for the air pollution in Ningbo. According to Dunn, with the booming economy in Ningbo, more and more citizens can afford private cars. Dunn observed that cars have become a symbol of social status in Ningbo, and that many people purchase cars even if they do not really need one.
Similar to Dunn, Milam noticed an upward trend in car ownership and said that this has led to extreme congestion on Ningbo’s streets.
“Six years ago, when I first went to Ningbo, nobody in Xuefuyuan, where I live, owned a car. This year, almost everybody who lives there has a car,” Milam said. “When I first lived in Ningbo, at five o’clock in the afternoon, you could take a taxi-cab from Xuefuyuan to [downtown] Tianyi Square in about 10 minutes. Now it takes 40 minutes to get there during rush hour.”
Ningbo has an extensive public transportation system and infrastructure, compared to similar-sized cities. Seeing more and more private cars in the city, Dunn said that he believes it is not economical for people in Ningbo to use cars for daily transportation.
“I think it is unfortunate, because I managed pretty well in Ningbo without a car,” Dunn said. “The public transportation is reliable, and I can bicycle for short trips.”
According to Fen, there are currently six metro lines under construction, which also generates much dirt and dust for the city.
Dunn sees the air pollution as a by-product of China’s booming economy, which could face difficulties trying to reverse the effects.
“This pollution is the price of rapid economic growth, so I think the challenge faced by the Chinese government right now is to find some way to get the pollution under control without slowing down the economy,” Dunn said.
Ningbo is a port city, and its economy relies on exports. There are many chemical industries and manufacturing companies around the city. Zhenhai and Beilun districts are two main areas where chemical industries are located. Last year, the New York Times reported a sizeable protest against the expansion of a chemical plant in Beilun, which was quickly suppressed. Apparently, no further actions were taken as a result of the protest. Air pollution remains a significant challenge for Ningbo’s provincial government.
Ningbo is only one of the major Chinese cities facing air pollution problems. According to Newman, Western media outlets seize on opportunities to criticize the air pollution in China; however, most of them have forgotten that their countries faced similar problems during their own industrial development.
Newman said there are a number of issues facing China right now. Pollution does not solely come from coal energy plants, but also from the construction and manufacturing industries. As an American, Newman said she knows the majority of inexpensive consumer goods that Americans purchase are made in China and the factories that make those goods have contributed to the rise in pollution.
“It’s easy for other countries to point the finger at China for its pollution problems, but they have to understand that they’re just displacing their air pollution on China by having China’s cheaper labor produce these goods,” she said. “Until America learns to control its greed for new products at ever-cheaper prices, and as long as China can profit from this basic tenet of capitalism while establishing its own consumer society and rampantly disregarding the environment and health of its citizens, I fear the pollution problem will only worsen in China.”
Each fall semester, 50-80 NIT students enroll in the Sino-U.S. program and spend their junior and senior years at UIndy. According to junior business major Shen Zhiyuan, when he arrived, he was surprised by the clean air and blue skies in Indiana, which only raised his concerns about friends and family back home in China.
Newman said that she hopes the Chinese government will take measures to solve the air pollution issue in Ningbo.
“I think the situation is pretty serious and severe,” Newman said. “My hope for Ningbo is that this problem will be squarely addressed and measures taken to reduce air pollution for the good of people and the environment.”