Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's not just the water in China

It's not just the water that's threatened by China's breakneck economic growth. The air is threatened too. And it's much harder to buy bottled air than bottled water.

Dangerous atmosphere is also a real drag on economic growth. What's a government and a party, whose authority depends on continued economic growth, to do?

hoking smog paralyzes cities in northeast China, closing schools, airports
Thick, choking smog enveloped cities in northeast China on Tuesday, closing schools and airports, snarling traffic and reducing visibility to a few yards, in a dramatic sign of the country’s worsening air quality.

China’s breakneck dash for economic growth has badly damaged the environment, and the rapid deterioration in the country’s air and water quality has increasingly become a source of public unrest. As a result, improving environmental standards has become a priority for the government. But the acrid clouds enveloping several cities this week showed how tough that task has become.

In the industrial city of Harbin, home to more than 10 million people, vehicles crawled through the smog with fog lights on or emergency lights flashing. Bus service was canceled, a major highway was closed and hospital admissions soared by 30 percent, local media reported…

On Monday, visibility was so low in Harbin, about 780 miles northeast of Beijing, that two city buses got lost while plying their regular routes…

Previous efforts to improve air quality have foundered because of poor implementation by local governments, which continue to protect heavy industries and tolerate widespread violation of environmental norms, according to Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing.

“The central government has recognized the fundamental cause — which is its overuse of coal — and what sort of solution should be taken,” said Huang Wei, a campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace in Beijing…

A survey by the Pew Research Center published last month showed that the Chinese are increasingly worried about air and water quality, with air pollution nearly as big a concern as rising prices, corrupt officials and the gap between rich and poor. The Communist Party clearly worries that the issue is undermining its legitimacy in the eyes of many…

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