China’s Green Warriors

Michael Barr and Joy Y. Zhang, authors of Green Politics in China: Environmental Governance and State-Society Relations (Pluto, 2013), have written an article for the CNN Blog ‘Global Public Square‘ last week.

We’ve reproduced an extract from the article below, and you can read it in full on the CNN website, here. To find out more about Barr and Zhang’s new book, click on the cover image below. It’s available from the Pluto website for just £17 including free UK P&P.

Barr and Zhang, ‘China’s green warriors’

china-cover-finalRecent images of top golfers and spectators donning protective masks at the LPGA in Beijing has once again raised questions about air quality in China. During the event, pollution reached “hazardous” levels, as determined by the U.S. Embassy and Beijing’s own air quality monitors. Such a reading carries the warning that all people should avoid outdoor exertion and that the elderly, children and those with respiratory or heart disease should remain completely indoors.

There is no doubt that China has paid a heavy environmental price for its rapid development. One study determined that in four cities alone (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Beijing) in 2012 over 8,500 people died prematurely because of pollution. The report also indicated that those cities suffered a combined economic loss of $1.09 billion.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, as well as the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, there seemed a glimmer of hope that air quality would improve. But one of the sad facts of the LPGA tournament is that beneath the headlines of big name athletes struggling to breathe, there lies over 20 million people who live in Beijing every day and have to endure the suffocating side effects of rapid industrialization, including a heavy reliance on coal power, and a dramatic increase in car ownership.

Yet despite these facts, there is reason for optimism. In the West, we give too little attention to the Chinese people’s response to the environmental crisis. The truth is that a quiet revolution is underway in China, where approximately 4,000 registered environmental NGOs are responding to the country’s needs. Increasingly, these groups are having an impact. One reason, for example, that we even have official readings from the Beijing government on the city’s air is because of the influence of an NGO known in English as Green Beagle. In recent years, the group has led a public campaign to pressure the Chinese government into standardizing and publishing its air quality monitors.

More from CNN: Can social media clear air?

Many countries adopt an indicator known as PM2.5 to measure pollution levels. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter which are known to pose serious health risks. For a long time, China only used PM2.5 for laboratory research and never disclosed its municipal or national readings to the public. In 2009, however, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing started publishing its own PM2.5 readings on its website. Embarrassed by the discrepancy between these results and its own monitors, the Chinese government criticized the United States, claiming that their readings were not representative of the entire city – a point that American officials did not dispute.

Recent images of top golfers and spectators donning protective masks at the LPGA in Beijing has once again raised questions about air quality in China. During the event, pollution reached “hazardous” levels, as determined by the U.S. Embassy and Beijing’s own air quality monitors. Such a reading carries the warning that all people should avoid outdoor exertion and that the elderly, children and those with respiratory or heart disease should remain completely indoors.

There is no doubt that China has paid a heavy environmental price for its rapid development. One study determined that in four cities alone (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Beijing) in 2012 over 8,500 people died prematurely because of pollution. The report also indicated that those cities suffered a combined economic loss of $1.09 billion.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, as well as the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, there seemed a glimmer of hope that air quality would improve. But one of the sad facts of the LPGA tournament is that beneath the headlines of big name athletes struggling to breathe, there lies over 20 million people who live in Beijing every day and have to endure the suffocating side effects of rapid industrialization, including a heavy reliance on coal power, and a dramatic increase in car ownership.

Yet despite these facts, there is reason for optimism. In the West, we give too little attention to the Chinese people’s response to the environmental crisis. The truth is that a quiet revolution is underway in China, where approximately 4,000 registered environmental NGOs are responding to the country’s needs. Increasingly, these groups are having an impact. One reason, for example, that we even have official readings from the Beijing government on the city’s air is because of the influence of an NGO known in English as Green Beagle. In recent years, the group has led a public campaign to pressure the Chinese government into standardizing and publishing its air quality monitors.

More from CNN: Can social media clear air?

Many countries adopt an indicator known as PM2.5 to measure pollution levels. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter which are known to pose serious health risks. For a long time, China only used PM2.5 for laboratory research and never disclosed its municipal or national readings to the public. In 2009, however, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing started publishing its own PM2.5 readings on its website. Embarrassed by the discrepancy between these results and its own monitors, the Chinese government criticized the United States, claiming that their readings were not representative of the entire city – a point that American officials did not dispute.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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