Beijing residents fled indoors earlier this week as a wave of pollution choked the city in a straight-up Fern Gully-style “airpocalypse.” Hazardous PM2.5 particles in the air soared to 36 times what is considered healthy (apparently, a tablespoonful a day) by the World Health Organization. As we suck down our refreshing, less unhealthy air in Shanghai, we don’t see what the problem is. Beijingers are already inhaling so much pollution on a regular basis, it’s like the difference between drinking a Big Gulp and a Super Big Gulp of PM2.5 – not a big deal, presuming you’re down with the diabetes.
Leaders took their time in weighing their options. After deciding sandstorms, fog, Mongolians, dissidents, jalopies and this guy couldn’t believably be blamed for the pollution, Li Keqiang finally broke the Politburo’s silence, recognizing the pollution and issuing broad platitudes meant to soothe the populace Grandpa Wen-style. There’s no quick fix, he assured. Believe him, they’ve tried: Beijing shut down factories and forced government cars off the road to little avail.
But every cloud has its silver lining. Early in the week, Goldman Sachs, UBS and ANZ all greeted positive Chinese export data with skepticism that officials had trumped up the figures. But, in truth, China is exporting all that and then some. It just turns out bankers are just too glued to their Bloomberg terminals to look out the window and recognize China’s chief overlooked export: sweet, smoggy black gold.