Click to enlarge — Altaf Qadri, AP
❝Two cities. Two very polluted cities. And two very different ways of dealing with twin public health crises.
When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 percent.
When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that a high court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting Jan. 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight.
So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped…
❝Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the central government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants.
And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the environmental court — which has only quasi-legal powers — has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes.
It amounts to little more than vague promises, and is resulting in increasingly angry headlines…
❝”In China, whenever you talk about PM2.5 (one of the most dangerous forms of airborne particulate matter), everybody knows what that is, it’s pollution. But once you raise the same questions in Delhi, it seems like not many people care about that. And yet, the level of pollution in Delhi is more than five times” higher than in Beijing, said Yann Boquillod, a longtime Beijing resident who co-founded Air Visual, a startup that crunches pollution data and weather information to predict air quality…
❝In China, an authoritarian system makes policy changes much more straightforward than in India, where a chaotic and widely corrupt government makes it easier for polluters to avoid regulations.
“China has made a very serious and concerted effort to fight air pollution in the past few years,” said Lauri Myllyvitra, Greenpeace’s global campaigner on coal. She said Beijing’s success came when it realized the problem had to be addressed regionally, not just in the city.
“Our greatest hope is that India will not waste a decade trying to address a regional problem locally … but will move much faster to put in place regional action plans for cleaner energy sources and fuels, as well as meaningful emission standards and enforcement,” she said…
Our politicians learned long ago to describe serious questions in political terms instead of economics. You can fuss with the former for decades without actually changing anything. So, India is described as a great democracy while that nation’s corruption has surpassed China – while China has moved in the other direction to begin to counter historically-accepted levels of corruption.
But, much of the difference remains economic. Though it may take Beijing as long as London or Los Angeles to overcome smog problems, China can afford to make the needed changes. India can’t. Not yet. They will need assistance whether their politicians care to admit it or not.