Amidst A Cloud of Suspicious Data, China Vows To Find Sources of Pollution


China has announced it will begin a national survey of pollution sources in February, and not a moment too soon. Two weeks ago, Beijing saw its skies turn murky brown in one of the worst pollution weeks in recent history, and some 32 weeks away from the Summer Olympics. The results of the survey will not be linked to punishments, officials say, and for now that's probably a good thing: The goal is to get reliable data, not the fudged, finessed figures that are a result of local officials and bureaus wary of government reprisal.

(Incidentally, 2007 saw Beijing just manage to meet its target of 245 blue sky days--no more, no less. Cleverly, or not, writes Steve Andrews, officials appear to have moved their monitoring equipment in recent years from areas frequented by car traffic to quieter areas where sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM10 are less common.)One place to start looking for pollution sources might be those big tubes throwing up towers of black stuff which are built at the rate of one every two weeks (and without which the west would have to pay more for its shiny new gadgets, clothes and other stuff.)

Determining sources of the pollution that plagues Beijing will be crucial in continuing to prepare for the "Green Olympics" (and Beijing still has its work cut out for it, according to the UN). As Clifford Coonan writes in the Independent, "it's a brave bookmaker who would take a bet on a new world record being set during the marathon in Beijing."

Ahead of the Games, the city has already relocated many factories, including part of the massive Shougang steel works, to places outside of the city, like nearby Hebei province. That may only be a minor fix: experts say that the city's pollution is due in large part to smog pouring in across the border from Hebei. Also responsible for the city's unhealthy air is the coal-fired pollution coming from Inner Mongolia, which often combines with dust storms for a noxious brew.

And then of course there are the cars, which now pile on to the roads in Beijing at a rate of 1,200 new vehicles a day (Nasa shows us what happened when cars were banned for a few days in 2006). Helping to make Beijing's air as bad as that of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Atlanta combined is the fact that Beijing is surrounded by hills that trap air pollution.

Details about China's pollution study are still sketchy, but here's what Xinhua says about how the survey will play out in Beijing:

The survey will investigate 82,000 sources of industrial, agricultural and residential pollution and pollution treatment facilities across the city, said Zhong Liangxi, an official with the pollution sources department of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

Seven thousand people recruited from the public will receive training courses on statistics, how to fill out investigation forms and study relative rules and regulations about pollution control.

They will begin visiting each of the pollution sources in February and the investigation is expected to be completed in June. All the information will be put into a database and the final analysis will be announced in July 2009, said Zhong.

Interesting that members of the public -- not government officials -- will be charged with investigating pollution sources. That may not only keep the survey honest, untarnished by official goal-making, but will also help ensure more public engagement with environmental protection.

Building public participation, an increasingly popular mission, is a clever way for the government to funnel widespread public anger into action. Already, groups like Ma Jun's Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs keeps track of water and air pollution using live maps.

It's easy to be cynical, but I hope that the government's attempt to honestly pinpoint where pollution is coming from will, in the spirit of the serenity prayer, actually be another big step in controlling it.

via People's Daily

Photo of Beijing from Alex Wang, NRDC

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