Public debates over China's air pollution are getting intense. The official rating from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau (BMEPB), evaluated the city's air as "slightly polluted," fueling public doubt.
Figures from the US Embassy, measured by the standard of PM2.5, revealed that Beijing's air pollution reached "hazardous" levels. Their data is followed by more people. In comparison, Beijing authorities, who use the standard PM10, have been rebuked for deliberately hiding the truth from the public regarding air pollution.
PM, or particulate matter, is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets. PM10 and PM2.5 stand for particles less than 10 or 2.5 micrometers in diameter. The Beijing authorities changed its standard from PM100 to PM10 in 1996. In late August, the Ministry of Environmental Protection included PM2.5 in evaluation indexes toward government performance.
The focus of public debate is whether people have been cheated by government figures, rather than if we can meet Western air quality standards.
The debates over Beijing's air quality sound intense but actually are not serious. It is a social consensus how the city views air pollution and this won't be addressed quickly. It's alluring to stick to the proposal that we should avoid the Western path for pollution prevention. But while the number of private cars rises, and urban development is accelerating, air pollution just seems like an unavoidable price.
What the public cares about is the attitude of the authorities. Some criticize the government for not daring to adopt stricter standards, because the image of China's cities will suffer. However the BMEPB claims they will gradually raise China's standards based on the situation here. But evaluation by an embassy naturally won't be taken as a standard.
This mirrors a social predicament in current China. Along with globalization, the public sees world standards, and they expect China to adopt the most advanced ones. But we must accept that the nation can't reach these standards quickly.
It's hard to call on the public to see the distance between China and the world rationally, especially when the government lacks public credibility.
In order to deal with various public debates, the government must raise its credibility. China deals with all kinds of development problems. If so much time is wasted on politicizing problems like the difference between PM10 and PM2.5, the nation will barely accomplish any achievements.
The government should not downplay negative news, which is important to win public trust. For many officials at different levels, it appears to be a habit to downplay bad news. This seems responsible, but it essentially undermines the public credibility of the authorities.
What's more, if the government fails to properly address its mistakes in action; its achievements will also fade in the eyes of the public.