In January and February of this year the air quality in and north-eastern China has been reported to have deteriorated to the extent that the smog so thick that it was visible from space (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/china-pollution-bad-visible-space-article-1.1253838). The rise in pollution has reported caused increases in hospital admissions of respiratory problems and, according to the report above, even resulted in an official recognition of the problem, the article stating that the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection stating that the haze covering Chinese cities covered over 500,000 square miles. The problem has been officially identified as being caused by unregulated industries, vehicle emissions and cheap gasoline.
The identification of the ‘causes’ is interesting. The focus is upon the action of individuals with respect to vehicle emissions and the use of cheap gasoline. This implies that the cause is a matter of individual responsibility. Placing causation at the feet of individuals means that there is justification for taking action against individuals for not taking appropriate steps deemed vital to reduce pollution by authorities. The focus on unregulated industries implies that regulated industries are not contributing to he pollution level. Again responsible and fault is placed onto individuals who run firms that do not conform to state regulations. Politicians, according to the report, even closed these firms for 48 hours as well as urging individuals to stay off the road. The implication is that the pollution is an inevitable result of the outcome of ‘development’ or ‘progress’ with the individualistic bend of capitalism. The pollution is as predictable a result of economic progress as were the dark satanic mills of nineteenth century Manchester were of progress in Britain. By implication, the more measured and responsible activities of the state have no role in producing this smog. Despite the state setting the economic regulatory climate as well as enforcing regulations relevant to pollution production, the role of the state is regulated to a backseat in the internal pollution narrative that is emerging from these reports.
The pollution does, however, have a flip-side in the new China – the hazard is an economic opportunity for the few. Anti-pollution domes, with interiors of pollutant-free atmospheres have been jointly developed by a Shenzhen-based manufactuer of outdoor enclosures and a Calfornian-based company (UVDI) that specialises in air filtration and disinfection systems (http://wallstnews.blogspot.co.uk/p/asia-edge.html#!/p/asia-edge.html ). Combining these existing technologies it is possible to create a pollutant free environment within outdoor activities can continue. Additionally, face masks, ranging from high-tech neoprene masks to strips of cloth, have been increasingly sold to try to prevent inhalation of pollutants. Within homes air filtration units are being employed to ensure a clean supply of domestic air. This, however, also means that there is increasingly a social, or even a class, aspect to this hazard. The emerging middle-class in China can afford to buy these new ‘must-have’ accessories to sustain urban life. The poor are left to cope using tatters of cloth across their mouths and noses to filter their domestic air. How long before your income determines your ability to survive extreme pollution episodes?
One enterprising individual has even taken to selling cans of fresh air to hassled urbanites, for 80 cents a can. Although to be fair, Chen Guangbiao, although promoting himself says that the sale of the fresh air cans is a tactic to push ‘mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies’ not to just pursue economic goals but also to consider the impact of their actions on the future.