If you don't like the frequency of your air-quality alerts, you don't have to keep them. That is the message that the Chinese government has made loud and clear as Bloomberg reports, Shanghai's environmental authority took decisive action to address the pollution - it cynically adjusted the threshold for "alerts" to ensure there won't be so many. In a move remininscent of Japan's raising of the "safe" radioactive threshold level, China has apparently decided - rather than accept responsibility for the disaster - to avoid it by making the "safe" pollution level over 50% more polluted (up from 75 to 115 micrograms per cubic meter) - almost 5 times the WHO's "safe" level of 25 micrograms.
As the smog that has choked Shanghai for much of the last week reached hazardous levels, the city’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the frequent air-quality alerts: It adjusted standards downward to ensure that there won’t be so many.
It was a cynical move, surely made to protect the bureau’s image in the face of unrelenting pollution that only seems to grow worse, despite government promises to address it. At this advanced stage in China’s development, nobody in the country (or elsewhere) -- not even the loyal state news media -- seems to believe that the problem is solvable, at least not any time soon. Even worse, nobody -- not the state and certainly not the growing number of middle-class consumers (and car buyers) -- seems ready to take responsibility for the mess.
If you can’t fix it, you might as well try to avoid responsibility for it, the thinking seems to go. It therefore comes as no surprise that Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau decided to lower the benchmark for alerting the public about pollution risks. It will now issue alerts only when the concentration of the most dangerous particulates in the city’s air, known as PM2.5 (particulates smaller than 2.5 micometers in diameter) reach 115 micrograms per cubic meter. The previous standard was 75 micrograms per cubic meter. (The World Health Organization recommends not exceeding 25 micrograms per cubic meter in a 24-hour period.)
The state-owned English-language China Daily explained the decision in tone that almost obscured the absurdity of the maneuver: “The bureau said it believes the original standard is too strict, given that haze is common in the Yangtze River Delta region in winter.”
“On social networks like Weibo and Wechat, Beijingers now show photos of blue skies and white clouds as if they’re on vacation.” This show-off behavior left a bad taste, he concedes, before concluding with a final sentence that ought to serve as a rallying cry in China: “I really hope that someday people will resume reacting to blue skies and white clouds in a ‘normal’ manner.”
That's a hope that probably won’t be fulfilled in this decade or even the next.