As winter slowly gives way to spring, the skies above many Chinese cities return to their normal murky hue. Factories belch out more smoke as production ramps up. Families go on joy rides in their gas-guzzling SUVs and sport cars. On the surface, people go about their daily business seemingly ignorant of the carcinogens filling their lungs.
But as with everything in China, looks can be deceiving.
Premier Li Keqiang told parliamentarians this past week that “[w]e will resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty.” Aired on national television, the address revealed a level of transparency uncommon from the capital. It seems that many are already waging this battle - and succeeding. Rather than complacency being the order of the day, ingenuity and innovation are the by-products of this developing country’s turbulent connection to the environment.
This is most evident in the novel ways the entrepreneurial spirit is showing itself. Sure, the Government is taking measures to counter environmental degradation – take the recent trial of smog-dispersing drones in Hubei and the proposed smog research facility in Beijing. Giving the public a way to change their habits, however, is going to be the real key to solving such widespread issues.
Just how much impact can one good idea have? I was reminded recently that it can have quite a large impact. Sitting around a restaurant table the inevitable topic of air pollution came up. One person mentioned buying a new cost-effective air filter for their home. I have an air filter in my apartment, but it is by no means cheap. What my friend said next astounded me. She bought the filter for 10% of what it cost to buy mine!
Enter Smart Air. Originally conceived by Fulbright Scholar Thomas Talhelm, the idea behind the product is so simple it boggles the imagination. Thomas bought a typical, inexpensive HEPA filter online and strapped it to a fan at home in Beijing. Using a particle counter, he found that his improvised solution outperformed the more expensive filters sitting in many homes today. Broken down, the impact equated to less than 2 Chinese Yuan per percent of PM2.5 reduction. The most popular brand of filter comes in at 124 Yuan per percent.
The implications of this are immense, particularly when one thinks of the average Chinese consumer. Previously, buying an air filtering system would be well out of reach. Now, with just a simple invention, a huge portion of the population have access to, and information about, how to keep their families safe from harmful air pollution. Is it the ultimate solution? Of course not. But it is certainly an effective stop-gap for the time being.