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Good News on Bad Air Day in Beijing

Calling Monday's air pollution a 'bad air day' is a gross understatement. The "soupy metallic haze" was comparable to walking through a coal mine. People were told not to go outside. But the good news is how the government is addressing pollution.
December 11, 2015, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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As Chinese government represents negotiated in Paris an international plan (COP21) that would reduce coal use from the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, the nation's capital city was hit with dreadful pollution that was impacting all its residents. But unlike an even more potent toxic haze that enveloped the city last month, the city government was reacting more seriously.

"The government, which for the first time declared a 'red alert' over air pollution late Monday (December 7), even broadcast what sounded like bombing raid alerts in the subways — warnings telling people to take precautions with their health," writes Edward Wong for The New York Times. It was the first time the red alert had been used "since an emergency plan for pollution was unveiled two years ago."

"Few in this city of 20 million were unaffected by the alert's attendant measures: The vast majority of schools, hers included, were closed for the day; construction sites were shut; only cars with even-numbered license plates were allowed on the roads during the day," write Julie Makinen and Jonathan Kaiman for the Los Angeles Times.

“The issuing of a ‘red’ pollution alert means, first and foremost, that the Beijing authorities are taking air quality, and related health issues, very seriously,” Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, the representative of the World Health Organization in China, said in a written statement, according to Wong. "The group helped lead a 2010 study whose data showed outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total."

Greenpeace East Asia also praised Beijing, after criticizing it a week earlier for inaction. “The red alert is a welcome sign of a different attitude from the Beijing government,” said Dong Liansai, a climate and energy campaigner. “However, this, the latest of a series of airpocalypses to hit Beijing, is also a firm reminder of just how much more needs to be done to ensure safe air for all.”

The same praise does not appear to be applied to other cities in China affected by deadly air pollution, however. In a subsequent piece, Wong writes that "in other cities across northern China, tens of millions of people went about their daily routines in toxic air that was far worse than Beijing’s."

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Published on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 in The New York Times - Asia Pacific
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