Tuesday, March 05, 2013

More On China's Air

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations website, Huang Yangzhong adds some numbers and context to the developing issue of PM 2.5 air pollution, a topic of a recent post.

And what numbers!
Last Thursday morning, readings near Tiananmen Square measured the concentration of PM2.5—fine particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and are considered dangerous because they tend to penetrate the gas exchange regions of the lungs—at 469 micrograms per cubic meter, which corresponds to a U.S. EPA Air Quality Index reading of 479 (the scale stops at 500). Anything above 301 is considered “hazardous” in that it can cause “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly,” and there is a “serious risk of respiratory effects in general population.” The PM2.5 levels in other famously polluted cities pale in comparison to those in Beijing; for instance, the highest PM2.5 level in a 24-period recorded in Los Angeles was 43 micrograms per cubic meter.

The poor air quality, according to a leading Chinese public health expert, is worse than SARS because nobody can escape it. Research suggests that air pollution can raise the risk of cardio-respiratory death by 2 to 3 percent for every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of pollutants. Only 1 percent of China’s 560 million urban residents breathe air considered safe by European Union, according to a 2007 World Bank study. A report released by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection in November 2010 showed that about one-third of 113 cities failed to meet national air standards.The 2012 Cancer Registry Annual Report revealed that lung cancer is top among all types of cancer in terms of the number of cases and deaths in China. Indeed, the number of lung cancer-caused mortality in China has increased by 465 percent in the past three decades. In Beijing, the number of lung cancer patients has increased by 60 percent in the last ten years. The rising incidence rate of lung cancer coincides with drastic reduction in the incidence rates of stomach cancer and cervical cancer, which is thought to be a result of improvements in public health standards.

I am not sure I fully agree with Huang's conclusion:
Since the regime’s legitimacy hinges upon delivering robust economic growth, governments at all levels continue to pursue growth at the expense of environment. We are going to see more NPC delegates pushing for better environmental protection measures, but don’t expect any fundamental change until the government has shifted to a new legitimacy base and restructured the state-society relationship to allow for more effective participation of civil society groups in the public policy process.
If members of the Chinese Communist Party view the delivery of rapid economic growth as the make or break point, fine. However, the Chinese state has a few more cards -- unified rule of the traditional empire, brute force -- to play in maintaining order. As for institutional blocks to handling the air pollution problem, a Japanese government shift toward addressing Japan's serious pollution problems did not require a shift away from either the delivery of rapid economic growth or the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.

Furthermore, rapid economic growth never ever falls off the legitimacy table. The failure of Japan's growth engine delegitimized the Liberal Democratic Party and national bureaucracy in the 1990s. A promise of a return to rapid economic growth is the basis for the Abe Cabinet's current popularity.

The failure to address the control of air pollution is a failure of the Chinese Communist Party' imagination. Perhaps, as Martin J. Frid suggests in a comment to my earlier post, the CCP is just being lazy.

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