Here’s a pair of stories about China’s endemic smog problems that will make your head spin. First, a former environmental official from Hebei province penned a novel featuring a thief who sneaks about under cover of thick urban smog. Reuters reports:
The novel features a masked burglar who exploits nightly haze to cover his break-ins as it clouds the lenses of security cameras, an episode [author Li Chunyuan] said he took from real life.
Chinese culture is adapting to the toxic air pollution that hangs over many of its megacities, and enterprising authors like Mr. Li are finding it fertile creative material. But while Mr. Li has retired from his role as an environmental regulator, those still in charge of monitoring smog at the local level are adapting in their own way. The Nanfang Insider reports:
When Hanzhong, in Shaanxi Province, was confronted with off-the-chart PM 2.5 readings, officials at the City’s Environmental Protection Bureau did what any respectable scientist would do: they altered the readings by spraying the air quality monitors with water from a fire hose. […]Authorities at the Bureau denied the accusations, claiming the fire hose was not pointed at the air quality monitors, despite the photograph above clearly illustrating water being sprayed at the air quality monitors. However, authorities were willing to admit that, in the past, they may have used water trucks around the city to spray mass quantities of water in an effort to reduce heavy smog, according to an interview with Nandu.
Yes, you read that correctly. Local officials in Hanzhong reportedly sprayed down their air quality sensors with water from a fire hose to fudge the numbers.This would be a lot funnier if air pollution wasn’t such a serious, deadly, and expensive problem for China. The fact that local officials seem to be going to such extreme ends to obfuscate the problem is a serious challenge for central planners in Beijing. Playing loose with data has a long tradition in the power dynamic between China’s provinces and the central government, and it threatens to undermine efforts being undertaken to clean the country’s skies. And don’t forget: these same officials will be in charge of getting China to its much-publicized goal of reducing emissions.