Nine provinces and cities in northern China, along with Beijing and Tianjin, experienced heavy fog Sunday, and discussions over air pollution were ignited. The air pollution measurement taken by the US Embassy in Beijing was circulated online and became proof of the severity of air pollution in China's capital.
It is necessary for the media to report the facts accurately and the government should be cooperative in avoiding confusing information and public overreaction.
First, it is a fact that air pollution in most areas with a dense population in China is severe. Solving air pollution is an important part in eliminating environmental pollution. Solving the problem requires time and breakthroughs won't emerge soon. The public should know and accept this fact.
The debate is, whether China's pollution is getting worse or gradually improving. Figures by some local governments show the air pollution index is dropping in some cities, such as Beijing. Blue skies happen more frequently in Beijing and the number of sand storms has dropped.
But some Beijing citizens complain the figures do not match their experiences. It is autumn now when fog usually hits northern China. It is hard for the public to distinguish whether the heavy fog Sunday was normal or extreme. Some meteorologists told the Global Times Sunday that the people's impression is biased. But others addressed the severity of China's air environment. Correct or not, public opinion is part of China's air pollution problem.
Since the problem cannot be solved quickly, a consensus is needed. The government should play a key role. Local governments usually leave the impression of "playing down bad news" among the public, which makes many people exaggerate the gap between their feelings with the government's figures.
It is probably the same reason why the monitoring standard of the US Embassy is emphasized by netizens. That means local governments need to establish absolute authority over monitoring pollution without concealing information. If they are defeated by foreign embassies in this regard, they will lose more than just authority in monitoring air quality.
It will be a test to the rationale of the Chinese public as to whether they can reach a consensus on air pollution. Nobody likes air pollution, but China cannot singly pursue improving air quality. Meanwhile, it needs to do something. We need to pursue the optimal value of social development.
No one can neglect air pollution, but the condition in China is not mature enough to make eliminating air pollution its top goal in social development. However, it is not its last goal either. The goal will get increasingly closer to the core of China's social development as it moves forward. It will probably be a main theme of China's modernization at a higher level.