Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 21, 2015

Is visible air a sign of the state's limitations?

It seems that the limits on the state's capacity is becoming visible in China.

Mapping the invisible scourge
THE capital’s “airpocalypse”, the choking smog that descended on Beijing in the winter of 2012-13, galvanised public opinion and spooked the government. The strange thing is, though, that information about air pollution—how extensive it is, how much damage it does—has long been sketchy…

Responding to the outcry, the government set up a national air-reporting system which now has almost 1,000 monitoring stations… Scientists from Berkeley Earth, a not-for-profit foundation in America, have trawled through this recent cloud of data for the four months… and emerged with the most detailed and up-to-date picture of Chinese air pollution so far.

Pollution is sky-high everywhere in China. Some 83% of Chinese are exposed to air that, in America, would be deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency either to be unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups. Almost half the population of China experiences levels of PM2.5 that are above America’s highest threshold…

Berkeley Earth’s scientific director, Richard Muller, says breathing Beijing’s air is the equivalent of smoking almost 40 cigarettes a day…

The sliver of good news is that pollution levels are better in some places than in others. They are… least bad in the south… probably because that area was washed by monsoon rains during the period of the study. More importantly, levels of PM2.5 in large western cities such as Chongqing and Chengdu are about half the national average. Figuring out what they are doing right would be a first step towards reducing the smog elsewhere.

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