Beijing issued its first-ever “red alert” over toxic air pollution back in December, warning its citizens to stay inside if possible, wear masks if venturing out into the smog, and ordering half of the city’s cars off the road. The Chinese capital followed that warning up with a second red alert less than two weeks later, and rounded out the month by cautioning children and the elderly against going outside. Now, the Chinese government is tightening the standards for issuing these red alerts, making them at least potentially a little bit fewer and farther between. Reuters reports:
In future, the highest alert will only be issued when the daily average air quality index (AQI) is forecast to exceed 500 for a day, 300 for two days in a row or 200 for four days, Xinhua reported, citing Beijing’s environmental protection bureau.
At present, a red alert is issued when the AQI is forecast to exceed 200, a level the United States deems “very unhealthy”, for at least three days.
These red alerts have a large effect on the local economy, closing schools (and forcing parents to figure out a childcare solution on the fly), making it difficult for people to commute, and postponing construction projects. The decision to make the qualifications for these shut downs a little bit more stringent shows China is still struggling to find the balance between pursuing urban development and managing the rampant pollution incurred by its rapid recent growth.
The country’s recent economic stumbles will make any growth-constricting actions taken in the name of clearing smoggy skies that much more painful. But this isn’t just an economic issue, it’s a political one as well. The Chinese public has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government for pollution problems in recent years. But while smog may be fomenting dissent, it’s going to be a bit harder for it to trigger a red alert in Beijing in the future.