When a joint US-Chinese study found recently that coal burning in northern China had shortened residents’s lifespans by a total of 2.5 billion years in the 1990s, netizens despaired and southern real estate agents celebrated. China’s embattled environment ministry, on the other hand, went into deep denial.
Liu Zhiquan, an official at the ministry, told Chinese media on Wednesday that he was unconvinced, criticizing the study for having a limited sample and inadequate time span, and arguing that it was not possible to make the connection between pollutants and shortened lifespans. The study’s authors would no doubt disagree, having analyzed the deaths of 500,000 people in 145 locales, and crunched pollution data from 90 cities recorded by Chinese officials from 1981 to 2001.
If Mr Liu was in any doubt about the validity of this particular study, The Lancet published another one in December that blamed pollution for 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone. China’s environment ministry is already a world-class embarrassment, as its own minister admitted earlier this week. Statements that take issue with the undeniable damage done to China’s environment will only make things worse.