The Chinese government forcing provincial capitals and other major cities to monitor air pollution is great news on more than one level.Here is a link to a Guardian article – China combats air pollution with tough monitoring rules
I find it heartening to see the Chinese government responding to public concern/anger. There are so many issues that harm the health of the population and have the potential to cause massive anger towards those in power and instability in general. Pollution, food safety and corruption are three of these, particularly when harm is done to children as a result and key information is hidden from those who try to investigate or people are hindered by officials in their search for justice. Monitoring pollution is a step in the right direction in addressing one of these issues. Anything that frees up some information about the extent of air pollution across China is a good thing. Perhaps provincial leaders will be embarrassed into action.
Another positive point is that the government mouthpiece actually acknowledged this move was due to Internet activism. Furthermore, I gather from the Guardian that the government presented this example of public activism in a positive light. Protest made. No protesters jailed. Government makes change. Government is open about change and reasons for it… Wow! This is cause for celebration. I don’t think it would have happened before things like Weibo became popular either.
There are however two things that worry me about this news. Firstly, information is just one step towards cleaner air. The next step (i.e., bringing about changes to lower emissions) will be much harder. I feel publishing pollution levels will create a more open environment where the next step will be more likely to happen, but having access to this data could cause public anger if people do not feel change is happening fast enough. If this happens, I hope it does not make the government regret providing that information.
Finally, I really do not trust city governments to provide accurate readings. I think it would be a wise move to make the office responsible for monitoring air pollution levels answerable directly to the central government in Beijing.
Overall, this news makes me feel optimistic. We’ll see how things work out…