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Beijing’s Smog Alert: Dealing with the Symptom Not the Cause

When Sir Alec Douglas-Home visited Beijing in 1972, his Chinese hosts greeted the foreign secretary with a carefully crafted joke about London pea soupers. Replying, Sir Alec rather snappishly referred tothe Clean Air Act of 1956, which he said had largely ended the problem. The Great Smog of 1952, which was estimated to have killed at least 4,000 Londoners, had led to a huge effort to clean up the city’s air. Beijing then was a city of bicycles, narrow alleys and small courtyards, intersected by broad boulevards on which there was virtually no motor traffic. These days, it is periodically choked by smog as thick as any which Charles Dickens recorded, while London has little visible pollution, although its levels of some dangerous particles remain unacceptably high.


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