China tells citizens to bike, walk, and snitch in the “united struggle” to breathe easier

Breathing easy.
Breathing easy.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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To fight its stubborn pollution problem, China is asking its citizens to walk or bike instead of driving, and to use less air conditioning and limit the use of outdoor barbecues—and to turn in neighbors who waste electricity or pollute the environment.

According to China’s environmental protection law, amended in April, clearing up the country’s smoggy skies is now the obligation of all Chinese citizens. To help, the environmental ministry released a set of guidelines (pdf) yesterday, titled the “United Breath Struggle Citizen Code of Conduct.”

Officials are also instructing residents not to use coal, which is common in rural households for cooking and heating, or to burn garbage, buy products with excessive packaging, or run the air conditioning so much that the temperature inside falls below 26 degrees celsius (78 degrees fahrenheit.) Whenever possible, residents are also instructed to use public transport, walk, or bike.

Citizens can also call an “environmental hotline” to report people or organizations that are wasting energy or polluting their environment. “Smog is the accumulation of many years. Reducing it will require difficult, hard work over the long term,” the code of conduct states. “By learning and raising our environmental consciousness, we can create a beautiful homeland of blue skies, green grass, and clear water.”

The measures are the government’s latest attempt to rein in pollution that has stirred resentment among locals, deterred foreign firms, and given the country a poor reputation. In Beijing, environmental authorities have said they would ban the use of coal in six districts by 2020.

Still, focusing on residents energy using habits alone won’t clear China’s skies. In Beijing, factories and industrial production are the biggest contributors to the most dangerous kind of air pollution—spewing an estimated 25% of China’s PM2.5 particular matter.