The Great Smog of China

After years of increasing public demand, the Chinese government is to release pollution data in 74 cities. Malcolm Moore at Telegraph reports:

[…T]he Chinese state media said on Sunday that 496 monitoring stations would release data in real time on six types of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and on PM2.5, particles that are so small they can only be detected by an electron microscope, but which can cause respiratory and heart disease.

[…] The pollution data will be available on the internet and through smartphone apps, said the Ministry of Environmental Pollution. There will also be daily readings on television and radio bulletins.

[…] The release of the official data will leave local governments less room to manipulate their statistics and hide the country’s worsening pollution problem.

It will also hamper other local governments from exaggerating how bad their air is in order to win pollution treatment funding from Beijing.

The New York Times, on the other hand, compares pollution in Beijing with London’s in the past. From Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore:

For London, the disaster was the Great Smog of 1952, which hit the city just this month 60 years ago. Near-freezing temperatures led to excessive coal burning in homes, which, combined with low winds, produced a thick yellow fog. Visibility was reduced to just a few feet. Public transport, cinemas, theaters and sporting venues closed down. An estimated 4,000 people died, mostly among the young, the elderly and sufferers of respiratory illnesses.

[…] China, as Peter Thorsheim, author of “Inventing Pollution: Coal, Smoke, and Culture in Britain since 1800,” points out, would do well to learn from Britain’s mistakes for both its sake and its neighbors’. The Great Smog was a catastrophe, but it was also a “moment of opportunity amid the tragedy,” Thorsheim told me this week. The British government turned criticism from the opposition and the public into concrete improvements, including the 1956 Clean Air Act.

Has China reached its Great Smog moment? By the 1950s, although war-torn, Britain was already one of the world’s most technologically advanced and wealthiest nations; that surely helped its decision. China, despite its overall economic might, has not yet reached that stage in per capita terms, and development remains the Chinese Communist Party’s primary concern.

See more on air pollution via CDT.


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