Less than a decade ago, not only was air pollution a recognized problem in China, but many didn’t trust the data being reported by local officials. The central government knew it needed to improve air quality, but that it would be impossible without knowing true pollution levels. The challenge was that local officials often prioritized economic growth and so had strong incentives to manipulate air pollution concentrations before reporting them to the central government.
On the heels of declaring a “war on pollution,” the government installed an automatic pollution monitoring system throughout the country that collects pollution data from local stations, releases the data in real-time to the public, and—critically—is very difficult with which to tamper. The move was one of a collection of measures the government took to reduce particulate pollution, which is now down 43% from before the war against pollution was declared.
Results from the new study show that the increased transparency and improved data quality rooted out manipulation and led people to better protect themselves.
Greenstone and He co-authored the study with Ruixue Jia from the University of California San Diego and Tong Liu from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.