That’s One Way to Clear the Air

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

I was perusing photography websites the other day and came across an article on DP Review describing Hong Kong’s latest efforts to give tourists a nice clean view of the city. Hong Kong has stunning vistas, but they are often obscured by smog. Hong Kong, being on the ocean, has somewhat less lethal air pollution than Beijing or Shanghai, but tourists’ dissatisfaction has prompted authorities in Hong Kong to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. In a novel solution, the city has erected giant photo murals depicting the city as it might appear on its rare clear days. Instead of photographing your sweetheart in front of the Hong Kong skyline as it actually is, you can snap a picture in front of a billboard showing how it would look if the air wasn’t so filthy.

The word “smog” doesn’t really begin to describe the air pollution which has reached staggering levels in many cities in China. In Beijing, where the hazardous air is literally off the charts, they talk of an “airpocalypse“.

The Chinese government has come under tremendous pressure, especially from urban elites who have grown increasingly alarmed by what they are forced to suck into their lungs. In August, Chinese leaders went to the resort town of Beidaihe where they have traditionally gone to discuss national policy since the days of Chairman Mao. Der Spiegel reports that, with little fanfare, the national government has announced a dramatic shift in its development and environmental policies. The world’s second largest economy and biggest environmental polluter is poised to radically realign its economy to boost the environmental sector to the rank of a “key industry,” on par with steel production, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology.  According the government’s plans, the sector is expected to earn $728 billion dollars in just the next two years.  The plan is to use tax breaks, government subsidies, and investments (foreign investment is expressly encouraged) to boost the production of more efficient power plants, the use of liquefied natural gas, and dramatically boost renewable and nuclear energy. Above all, the plan relies on economic incentives. Says Zou Ji of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, “Environmental protection can make you rich!” The government is determined to shift from a reliance on manufacturing to a more environmentally sustainable urban service economy.

Der Spiegel, being a German publication, points out the enormous opportunities the new policy presents for German businesses which are flocking to China to take advantage of the country’s need for Germany’s advanced technology and manufacturing prowess. In fact, 80 percent of all the machinery used in China to manufacture solar panels comes from Germany.

China has shown that when it sets itself a national goal, it tends to pursue it relentlessly, for better or for worse. This new and fundamental shift in energy policy may not only present profit making opportunities for foreign business investors, but it promises to curb the ever growing emissions which are choking the life out of the Chinese people and their economy. It’s certainly a more sustainable and substantive solution than Hong Kong’s Potemkin billboards.

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