Particulate matter is now the fourth-leading cause of death in China, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure, and smoking. And, unless current trends change, urban air pollution is projected to be the number one killer worldwide by 2050.
I don't think I've ever seen such a gathering in China before. Nearly one hundred people met in Beijing recently to discuss their efforts to promote environmental transparency and public disclosure of pollution data.
Before the thick blanket of smog choking Beijing lifted in early February, it had been more than three weeks since I'd seen the sun and even longer since I felt safe enough to walk outside without a surgical mask covering my nose and mouth.
Last year, the World Bank laid out a blueprint for reform which included privatizing large areas of the state and the greening of the economy. But, such changes will require taking on entrenched state interests. And, this will represent the heart of Xi's main challenge.
The god of wealth might bring bucks to doorsteps... and a blazing fireworks display may add to the festivities of the day, but those noxious clouds of smoke snaking around Beijing cannot stave off China's legacy that accounts for nearly half of global coal consumption.
The Beijing I knew and loved had pollution, sure, but it was of the type that belonged to a nation slowly shrugging off the cloak of Communism. In light of recen reports about the staggering pollution levels in Beijing this week, I felt I needed to return to the Beijing I once believed in.