Absent "Blue Skies," Beijing's Air Now Officially "Hazy"

Beijing has issued daily pollution reports since 1999, but weather reports always called the grey or yellow layer of particulates that often covers the city wu, or "fog." Starting this month, they've given the stuff a slightly more accurate name: mai, meaning "haze." Whatever they want to call the airborne product of power plants, construction sites and cars (the word for "smog" is fog + haze, wumai) the government says its making some progress on reducing it: last year, the city claimed 241 "blue sky days" last year, which was three more than its target and 141 more than in 1998. But even that term is a bit foggy, since blue sky days include days of moderate pollution; and anyway, the number of days with severe haze increased. The director of Beijing's environmental bureau recently stated that adding more "blue sky days" would be "very difficult." And last year, the government admitted, it failed to meet its 2 percent emission reduction targets last year: SO2 emissions rose 1.8 percent higher than the previous year, while Chemical Oxygen Demand, a water pollution index, gained 1.2 percent. How many more euphemisms can there be?It's true that thanks to the state EPA, dirty development is under closer scrutiny than ever, cleaner power plants are gaining steam, auto emissions standards are rising above the current Euro III level. That doesn't change some other facts of Beijing today: over 1000 new cars on the streets per day, booming growth and poor enforcement of existing green laws. (As the Economist also points out, statistics on the health effects of pollution are rare.) And of course, calling pollution "haze" only clouds the truth for a populace that, despite some great efforts by NGOs (see Rachel's post on Green Choice), is only slowly gaining environmental concern; protests are still typically reserved for large environmental accidents. China appears to be facing up to its environmental problems better than ever, but without speaking the name of its biggest ecological threat, the forecast for improvement is still hazy at best.

: : Economist; Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection daily pollution report (an API over 100--or level III and up--is considered unhealthy).

(Image from Time Asia)

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