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China's Shotgun Approach to Fixing Pollution


China knows it has a pollution problem. Its rivers are drying up; much of what remains is heavily polluted and occasionally plays host to dead animal flotillas. Its megacities huddle under clouds of deadly smog.

What Beijing is less clear on is what to do about it. It is throwing money at the problem, but that won’t be enough for the world’s biggest consumer of dirty-burning coal. China has to figure out a way to keep its economy growing without killing its environment, and it needs to do a better job monitoring the situation at the local level. Two stories this week suggest that it’s making progress on both fronts. First, from the WSJ:

Buyers of electric cars can receive up to 60,000 yuan ($9,800) in subsidies, while buyers of certain gasoline-electric hybrids can get as much as 35,000 yuan, the Finance Ministry said Tuesday. The subsidies, which take effect immediately, will drop 10% next year and another 20% in 2015. […]

The Finance Ministry on Tuesday also called on municipal governments to buy more fuel-efficient cars and buses for their fleets. It said fuel-efficient vehicles must account for at least 30% of new purchases by government agencies and public institutions. The ministry said it would offer a subsidy of up to 500,000 yuan for each electric bus through 2015.

China’s urbanization isn’t over yet. As more and more people cram into its cities, air pollution from transportation will continue to get worse if nothing is done. A large portion of city smog comes from transport; the WSJ estimates 30 percent. Incentivizing cleaner cars and buses is a step in the right direction. Even better would be incentivizing telework.

The central government is also working to get more accurate information about the extent of the problem from the local level. This week it announced a plan to name and shame the worst-polluting cities. Reuters reports:

“Local government must accept responsibility for air quality, and the state will publish every month a list of the 10 worst and 10 best cities for air pollution,” [said Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli at] a meeting in the capital, Beijing, as he urged all parts of the country to meet their targets.

Comparing cities to one another should allow Beijing to call out poor performing municipalities even if the numbers come in fudged.

Will these programs help? We won’t be holding our breath (though Beijing’s residents might want to).

[Beijing traffic image courtesy of Hung Chung Chih/]

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    It’s called “The Tragedy of the Commons”. I mean this in the sense that “the more people that are responsible for the up keep or maintenance of a resource, the less well cared for that resource will be”. The care of course varies from culture to culture, at leftist rallies like Obama’s inauguration’s and such, hundreds of tons of trash and litter are left behind by the irresponsible leftists, who feel entitled to have others pick up after them. While at TEA Party rallies the participants honor makes them take ownership and responsibility, and leave their venues in a cleaner condition than when they got there, carrying away their trash when garbage cans prove insufficient.

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