Pall of dangerous smog prompts nation to rethink growth model

By Wang Yong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, January 16, 2013
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 [By Zhou Tao/Shanghai Daily]

 [By Zhou Tao/Shanghai Daily]

In his article today, professor Robert Shiller suggests a new metaphor for America, "inclusive." This prompts me to mull over a new metaphor for my own country.

While "inclusive" ought to work for China, where inequality increases with, among other things, corruption and unbalanced urbanization, I would first consider another adjective for China, "beautiful" - referring to a beautiful environment that has been eroded over more than three decades of hectic growth.

In that process of growth, or progress, as we like to call it, we have seen more cars, more high-rises, more megacities, and more smog (not fog).

The smog that has thrown a pall over Beijing and many other cities these past few days attests to the inconvenient truth that there's something unbearably light in our sturdy progress to prosperity - that light, inhalable particulate matter synonymous with toxic industrial emissions.

In a rare move, CCTV devoted its top news slot on Saturday and Sunday to lengthy reports on the smog that has enveloped much of eastern and central China since January 9.

People's Daily reported yesterday that the smog has stifled nearly one-third of China's land in the past few days.

The Beijing News reported yesterday that the PM2.5 index in many parts of Bejing had exceeded the upper limit of the scale 500 - meaning the most polluted. And in certain parts of Beijing, the index approached 1,000, making the smog deadlier than a sandstorm.

Shanghai was better, due in part to a timely rain. Its PM2.5 index has been hovering slightly over 100 lately, meaning moderate pollution.

There are few other countries like China today, which has transformed itself into a world factory of pollution to boost export to meet the world's needs and to fuel domestic consumption of the nouveau riches.

Many developed countries have lived through that pollution nightmare, but they have turned a new leaf and addressed the problem.

But, given China's unrivalled population scale, it's unrealistic for the country to follow the "developed" path of "pollution first, treatment later." If we industrialized and urbanized wherever people live, China would have had no room in reserve for fresh air, soil or water.


That possibly explains why "a beautiful China" has become a buzzword - both among the officials and the public - since late last year. It was first proposed in the report of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November.

For more than 30 years, China has grown rapidly, often at the cost of the environment. Long before the horrific smog that chokes a third of the land this time, we have become familiar with "ordinary" smog, haze, dust, sandstorms, polluted rivers and poisoned soil.

But will this time be different?

Will the "beautiful" metaphor work?

To be sure, China has eliminated many polluting plants in the past five years, but rapid urbanization and industrialization have again produced lots of particulate matter and acid rain, somehow offsetting the positive results.

People's Daily warned yesterday that industrialization and urbanization will continue on a fast track for the next five years, posing greater challenges to pollution prevention and treatment.

Only if we no longer pit cities against the countryside and equate urbanization with de-forestation and destruction of the rural ecosystem, will the "beautiful" metaphor really work.


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