BEIJING, China: Beijing was enveloped in a dust storm and heavy pollution over the weekend, with the IQAir website showing an air quality index of 1,093, a "hazardous" level, many times higher than what are considered "unhealthy" levels.
Concentrations of the tiny PM2.5 particles that can reach deep into the lungs and bloodstream entered a dangerous range on air quality monitoring sites.
Although Beijing was formerly notorious for its terrible air quality, conditions had improved as authorities took heavily polluting vehicles off the roads and have moved coal-fired power plants and heavy industry to the surrounding provinces.
Air quality also improved markedly after 2020, when much of China's industry was shuttered under lockdowns and quarantines mandated by China's strict "zero-COVID" policy.
In the face of a sluggish economy, China has been promoting coal-fired power, setting back efforts to cut climate-changing carbon emissions from the biggest global source.
China is one of the biggest investors in wind and solar power, but jittery leaders called for more coal-fired power after economic growth plunged in 2021 and shortages caused blackouts and factory shutdowns. Russia's attack on Ukraine added to the anxiety that foreign oil and coal supplies might be disrupted.
China is the top producer and consumer of coal and one of the largest source in the world of air pollution and climate changing gasses.