By Michael Lelyveld
China is claiming significant progress in its battle against smog despite an increase in coal consumption for the first time in four years.
In an upbeat assessment on March 17, the official Xinhua news agency reported a sharp drop in sales of the ubiquitous face masks that city dwellers have worn to keep deadly small particles known as PM2.5 out of their lungs.
According to the report, the bad news for mask makers is due to good news for air quality, “as some Chinese cities enjoyed the clearest winter sky in five years thanks to sustained pollution control efforts.”
In its broad survey of 338 cities, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) found that average PM2.5 density in 2017 fell 6.5 percent from a year earlier to 43 micrograms per cubic meter.
The decline exceeded the six-percent decrease in PM2.5 concentrations that the MEP reported for 2016.
Li Ganjie, now minister of ecological environment in the reorganized government, noted even lower readings in January of 34 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing, the best since 2013.
Xinhua also cited positive findings by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, highlighted by The New York Times. In a recent opinion piece, institute director Michael Greenstone concluded that “China is winning” its war on pollution “at (a) record pace.”
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