Beijing Creates Anti-Smog Police to Fight Air Pollution

Authorities in Beijing are taking new actions to resolve the city’s ongoing and harmful air pollution problem with the creation of an anti-smog police force — but will it help?

Beijing’s acting mayor Cai Qi reportedly announced the initiative on Saturday, January 7. The dedicated branch of regulation enforcement will patrol the streets looking specifically for violations that could harm air quality, including open air barbecues, unlicensed burning of materials and improperly maintained roads.

While this might sound like a drastic action, Beijing’s smog problem has been notoriously difficult to control. Over the past month, air quality readings have been so concerning that Beijing, along with a number of other Chinese cities, has warned residents to stay indoors.

The smog problem has largely emerged due to increased coal burning for heating combined with unfavorable weather conditions. The resulting air pollution has closed schools and disrupted flights out of major Chinese cities.

To put this worsening situation in perspective: In 2015 smog levels reached a crisis point when they exceeded — by eight times — the level of what the World Health Organization considers safe. On the first day of 2017, smog levels reached as much as 24 times the safe limit.

But why is smog so dangerous?

It comes down to the particulate matter, which is capable of entering our lungs. Smog potentially causes or exacerbates a number of health conditions, ranging from the obvious — such as lung and pulmonary disease — to mental and physical developmental problems and autism spectrum behaviors.

There is also some evidence to suggest air pollution gives rise to dementia.

National and local authorities have claimed to be taking significant actions against smog. In 2014, for example, China announced it was waging an all-out war against dirty air by reinforcing air quality restrictions. Now, when government officials issue a red alert, manufacturing must halt some operations, and citizens must obey additional transport restrictions until air quality improves.

However, critics insist that China has not been doing enough to hold businesses accountable. Despite making promises as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, it is undeniable that China’s actions have sometimes lacked teeth. This seems particularly true when it comes to how manufacturing firms operate.

For example, the Guardian reports:

Last week, inspection teams from the environment ministry found some companies resuming operations despite a government ban, known as a “red alert,” aimed at curbing smog. More than 500 construction sites and businesses and 10,000 vehicles violated measures to reduce air pollution.

So, the crucial question remains …

Will Beijing’s new environmental officers help clean up the city’s smog?

On the face of it, there are reasons to be skeptical.

While it is undeniable that the environmental police force could make a difference by improving sanitation and ensuring that unlicensed burning isn’t taking place, a focus on local problems does not address the wider issue. Indeed, the new initiative seems tangential to wider progress.

For example, much of China’s smog problem can be  attributed to the sheer density of traffic on the country’s roads. While China has developed some innovative solutions, like green corridors, local air quality enforcement will not change the traffic problem.

Furthermore, critics warn that this local focus is yet another example of Chinese authorities penalizing citizens while failing to take action against big businesses.

Although Beijing has tried to curb coal fire use in some respects, neighboring cities and provinces have not taken those measures. Thus, any gains made by Beijing are undercut.

Without political will from the Chinese government to act unilaterally and impose restrictions, it is difficult to see how this problem can be addressed effectively.

Some signs of hope exist, though. For instance, broad air quality figures show signs that, despite serious flashpoints, China is making progress.

China has also made a massive investment in renewable energy. Reuters reports that at the start of the year, Chinese authorities announced they would channel the equivalent of $361 billion into renewable energy by 2020.

China has firmly latched to the idea that it could be one of the first nations to make good on its promises under the Paris Agreement and surpass many Western nations by becoming a leader in renewables. And by cutting coal use, China could simultaneously make significant steps in smog reduction.

That, however, remains a long-term strategy, and environmental advocates are desperate to see short-term solutions materialize.

While the effort to improve Beijing’s air quality is commendable, it seems unlikely to fix the larger issues of industry fossil fuel use — and the resulting poor air quality and health. However, when analyzed within the broader context of China’s environmental actions, this small step may indicate an effort by authorities to engage with air quality issues at every level.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

44 comments

Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Richard A
Richard A8 months ago

Thank you for this article.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus9 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Hong Ming L
Hong Ming L9 months ago

ty

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer9 months ago

Hmmmmm

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natasha s
Past Member 9 months ago

Good luck with that.

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sandy Gardner
sandy Gardner9 months ago

It's about time!

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Helga G
Helga Ganguly9 months ago

Global warming . They are afraid.

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Helga G
Helga Ganguly9 months ago

Ha ha. Smarter than the the US.

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Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C9 months ago

ty

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