CHINA'S AIR POLLUTION problem has grown to mythic proportions. Nowadays, almost all Chinese cities of any size are shrouded in a thick, gray haze for days, or even weeks, at a time. Driven by a growing fleet of automobiles and a seemingly insatiable appetite for coal-fired power, air contamination has been climbing for decades. But until recently, most Chinese seemed willing to accept the situation as a worthwhile sacrifice to maintain the country’s torrential economic growth.
That may be changing. If so, the turning point may have been in January of last year, when pollution in Beijing, the capital, reached levels 40 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit, and visibility plunged to a few hundred feet. Internet commenters quickly dubbed the phenomenon “Airpocalypse.”