'Time Is Not Ripe' for Honest Air Pollution Readings

In terms of air pollution data, Beijing officials offer even less transparency than the air itself. From China Real Time Report

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting one exists. But in the face of growing public concern over a recent stretch of air pollution in the Chinese capital, local officials this week did little to ease the outcry.

In the midst of an especially smoggy stretch of days this past week, local officials and state-run media did little to suggest Beijing was prepared to tackle its air pollution levels, among the worst of the world’s major cities. The state-run Global Times newspaper early this week reported a dense “fog” had descended over the capital. The local government was reporting “slight” pollution levels even as readings by the U.S. Embassy described pollution as “hazardous.”

And in an interview published Friday in the Beijing Times newspaper, Du Shaozhong, a spokesman for the municipal environmental bureau, questioned the embassy’s independent readings, which have long been a point of contention between Beijing and Washington. “I’m not clear about their monitoring tools and methods, and how they ensure accuracy” Mr. Du said.

Part of the reason for the enormous disparity between Chinese and American air quality readings is that the latter include much finer particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres, known as PM 2.5, which are particularly hazardous to human health. In September, China’s environment ministry announced plans to incorporate PM 2.5 into its data. But James Fallows’ blog at The Atlantic included a reader’s summary of an article from Guangzhou Daily [zh]: according to official sources, the article claimed, PM 2.5 readings are already taken for Beijing and Shanghai, but “the time is not ripe” to publicise them:

• Beijing and Shanghai already measure PM2.5 levels
• These figures are not released because “the time is not ripe” “时机不成熟”
• Why is the time not right? The anonymous source states the reason:

• “如果制定实施PM2.5的环境空气质量标准,各地将大范围超标”。
• If we were required to implement PM2.5 air quality standards, many places would exceed standards by a large margin”

• Journalists judgement of this practice:

• 这只是自欺欺人的选择性失明。
• This is pure self-deception, selective blindness.

Take-home points for now:
• This is really a big problem for China, which the government is beginning to grapple with;
• There is much more internal protest and contention about the government’s “selective blindness” on environmental issues than outsiders usually recognize. Good for the Chinese journalists, scientists, citizens, and some government officials pushing for change.

See also recent reports that the country’s leaders not only enjoy a private supply of untainted organic vegetables, but also swaddle themselves in specially purified air, via CDT.

November 4, 2011 10:55 PM
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