Beijing's moves on pollution greeted with some scepticism
The Beijing government is hoping emergency measures will combat pollution after weeks of smog have translated into growing public discontent about the cost of economic growth.
The capital’s mayor, Wang Anshun, yesterday unveiled a plan to ease the chronic problem, saying Beijing would take 180,000 old vehicles off the road and promote clean energy cars among government departments, the public and the urban cleaning sector, which includes street cleaners and rubbish collectors.
Other measures to be formalised are the closing of heavily polluting factories.
“We will speed up the construction of a beautiful city with blue skies, green earth and clean water,” said the mayor, but citizens were sceptical, bordering on hostile, saying he was living in a dream world.
Yesterday the US embassy air quality index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), gave a “hazardous” reading at 417. Even the government’s index, which normally indicates less pollution, was reading “severely polluted” at 390.
PM2.5 particles can go deep into the lungs and cause cancer, bronchitis and asthma. The World Bank reckons that 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are located in China.
Recent weeks have been marked by off-the-scale readings – more than 500 and up to 755 and beyond. The World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.
The appalling air quality has been caused by car emissions, coal-burning and atmospheric conditions. But the deeper underlying causes have been blamed by scientists on an obsession with boosting the economy.
Data released at the weekend showed that Beijing’s permanent population reached 20.69 million by the end of last year, but the swelling number of permanent residents has not been matched by efforts to keep tabs on pollution.
Prof Pan Xiaochuan of Peking University complained about a tendency to call a chronic respiratory problem “Beijing Cough”.
“Before you can find clear evidence of this [causal link], using the term ‘Beijing cough’ is an extreme insult to Beijing,” Mr Pan was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post.
Despite fears for the capital’s reputation, there is growing unhappiness among the residents of China’s choking cities over pollution. Beijing was 75th out of 149 listed at the weekend, with Harbin the worst.
There is a belief that privileged Communist Party members and rising economic inequality are linked to the pollution. While most Beijing residents do not have the luxury of air purifiers at home, or iPhone apps to read air quality, this bout of pollution has been marked by extremely open coverage in the newspapers and on state television.