China is beginning to respond more to citizen outcry about poor air quality.

Science & Space

China confirmed this week that the number of its citizens living in cities has surpassed the rural population for the first time in its history. That massive urbanization — 690.79 million people are now city-dwellers according to the National Bureau of Statistics — has brought huge benefits, chief among them lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But it has also led to serious problems, perhaps none more so than the increasingly foul air in these heaving metropolises that are growing bigger, busier and dirtier by the day. In Beijing the situation has become so bad the capital’s airport has repeatedly been forced to close temporarily in recent months as dense smog prevented take-offs and landings. Meanwhile, the air has been so thick that residents have struggled to see across the road.

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