Red Alert Raises Challenges for China in its Fight Against Pollution

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For the first time, the Chinese government on Monday sounded its air pollution red-alert warning prompting hundreds of millions in Beijing to take precautious measures until Thursday, when strong winds blew smog to the south where it became an issue for millions more.

The move serves as another example of how China is becoming increasingly transparent in disclosing environmental statistics, but it also reflects the government’s failure to appease its citizens on the issue of pollution despite factory closures and traffic controls.

“I don’t care for the alert system,” said resident Kan Tingting an interview with The New York Times.

The café manager who stayed home Tuesday with her 3-year-old daughter added, “It’s rather pointless, if you ask me, because it doesn’t solve any real problems. No real progress is made until all the factories move away and the odd-even license plate number restriction becomes permanent.”

That measure was meant to keep half of China’s five million cars off the streets despite outcry from some motorists who have challenged and even violated the rule.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens who support the regulation are now questioning whether China can go after what they say is the root of their air pollution woes – industrial coal use.

Even though China leads the world in coal consumption and green-house gas emission, coal has been seen as a driving factor in its rapidly growing economy.

Officials launched the red-alert warning days after the government came under criticism for not acting as smog engulfed the north, and President Xi Jingping was in Paris discussing climate change with other world leaders.

China’s transparency in disclosing pollution levels came as a result of outrage from people who were facing the issue on the ground. In 2012, China Began releasing levels of PM 2.5, a deadly particle-based matter that can enter the bloodstream through the lungs, after residents released this information online from Western sources.

In 2013, smog engulfed the North creating panic and outcry. The term “airpocalypse” grew from that instance and Chinese officials began allowing its media to widely report on air pollution.

According to state-run media outlet Xinhua, air quality in the first half of this year improved from the same period in 2014. Average PM 2.5 levels dropped 15 percent.

“We must take effective measures and enforce them with no reductions,” said Beijing Mayor Wang Anshunat during a Dec. 4 meeting. “We must accept supervision from the public and the media, in order to win the battle against the imminent heavy air pollution.”


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