China’s air pollution is thought to kill 460,000 a year, the World Bank reported this year, and it’s no secret what the major cause is (it’s largely coal). But China’s environmental police face an uphill battle finding and fining factories and power plants for pollution. Fines are paid, or local officials are paid off. But a new map—yes, a map—is leveraging a potentially stronger disincentive: shame. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, an NGO helmed by activist (and Ed Norton;s hero) Ma Jun, launched the handy China Air Pollution Map using public data found on the websites of environmental protection departments or in government news releases. Ma says it will be constantly updated.
This is actually Ma’s second map; the first, released this year, targeted water pollution. His goal—and one backed by the state environmental protection agency, is to build a sense of public awareness around pollution while firming up China’s weak environmental surveillance. Outing offenders and relying on public participation are both crucial, say some officials. Others might be more reluctant. China recorded 51,000 pollution-related protests in 2005, and this past year, text messages brought together crowds that successfully blocked a chemical factory in the city of Xiamen. Such events are a reminder of the power of organized information. They're also a reminder that pollution isn't just unhealthy for the country's growth and its people, but for it's stability too.
See also Greening the Almighty Yuan