Woman wearing mask
(Photo credit: Nicolò Lazzati / Flickr)

China burns more coal than any other country, and it’s not only bad for the climate. China’s air pollution causes more than a million early deaths each year.

But several years ago, air quality in some large Chinese cities started to improve.

Journalist Beth Gardiner is the author of Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution. She says part of the reason for the improvement was that the Chinese people, particularly those in the urban middle class, started speaking up.

“Around 2012, 2013 there came a real upswelling of public anger,” she says.

She says the government started to feel threatened by public unrest.

“Consequently they started to respond and actually do things that have started to really push the air pollution down significantly,” she says.

For example, the government capped coal usage near urban areas and invested billions of dollars in wind and solar power.

The country is still heavily reliant on coal.

“China has a very long way to go,” Gardiner says. “But what we do know about air pollution is that any increment of improvement literally translates very directly into fewer heart attacks, fewer strokes, less cancer.”

So switching to clean, renewable energy can save lives.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.