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The skies are blue again in Beijing as pollution crackdown takes effect, but are polluters just migrating?

The Chinese government’s recent crackdown on air pollution from coal-fired sources has borne fruit as Beijing residents enjoy the sight of cerulean skies for a record amount of time. However, some people are worried that the polluters are just migrating to other cities, The Guardian recently reported.

According to state-operated media, Beijing enjoyed a record 226 days of “good” air quality in 2017. Only 23 days saw heavy pollution, compared with 58 days back in 2013.

Responses ranged from disbelieving to laudatory.

“How did Beijing become one of China’s top cities for air quality?” asked the headline of The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper.

“Isn’t it good to have a ruling party that can honor its promise?” tweeted Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-controlled Global Times, as he posted a photograph of Beijing’s CCTV headquarters with clear skies in the background.

During previous winters, Beijing burned more coal to keep its millions of residents from freezing. This resulted in smog filling the skies.

In 2017, the Chinese government embarked on a massive campaign to reduce air pollution levels in the capital city. To this end, it sent thousands of environmental inspectors into Beijing’s industrial zone with orders to curb the use of coal.

The inspectors also went after construction sites, factories, and vehicles.

“In the past, we made money first and could only talk about the environment later,” said visual artist Wu Di, whose haunting artwork was inspired by Western athletes wearing face masks when they arrived for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“But it’s clear the government has changed its mind. We can see everything is starting to move in the right direction,” he approved. (Related: Air pollution inside the home: Popular air fresheners and fabric cleaners are full of chemicals, could be causing your asthma, allergies.)

Beijing and China have a long way to go

According to Greenpeace campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta, the cleaner skies over Beijing could be mostly attributed to the decisive action taken by Chinese leaders to reduce air pollution levels.

“There is clear evidence the measures worked,” he said, citing a 40 percent reduction in overall levels of PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter) in Beijing today compared to the 2012-2013 period.

He also warned that the city’s average PM2.5 levels were still 65 percent higher than the rest of China and more than five times the safe levels set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017.

Furthermore, the crackdown may have just forced polluting industries to head elsewhere. Residents of important cities like Shanghai have reported increasing smog levels.

“The ‘war on pollution’ is far from over… Few people harbor illusions,” said Myllyrvirta before he ended on a positive note.

“But there is also no reason for cynicism as there’s clear evidence the measures worked.”

Change might be coming too fast?

In an effort to speed up the conversion to natural gas or electric heating systems, environmental inspectors smashed coal-fired heaters. This has caused problems for some Beijing residents.

“It’s only four degrees in here… I can hardly work,” Wu complained while wearing a thick coat inside his unheated studio.

He supported the government’s drive for a cleaner environment, but he also wished the measures were gentler.

“I can cope with the low temperature, but what about the elderly?” Wu asked. “What about children?”

He heard about a primary school near his studio whose radiators broke down. Several students reportedly suffered frostbite while others tried to stay warm by studying outdoors under the sun.

Like Myllyrvirta, Wu is also concerned about environmental damage in areas far from Beijing’s much publicized skies. Overall, though, he’s pleased with the progress his country has made.

You can find more articles about the fight against pollution at

Sources include:

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