Fireworks sets off heated debate on pollution
Setting off fireworks, a tradition during the Chinese Lunar New Year which falls on Thursday, has stirred wide debate in the country because it worsens air pollution.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve in 2013, Beijing saw a rapid increase of PM2.5, airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that can penetrate lungs and harm health. The concentration increased from 150 micrograms per cubic meter at midnight to 347 micrograms per cubic meter in one hour because of fireworks, according to the city’s environmental protection bureau.
A recent survey in Shanghai organized by local people’s political consultative conference, a political adviser for the city government, sampled 800 residents, and showed only 29.3 percent people support setting off fireworks, and the rest are against it.
Many provincial capital governments banned fireworks for Spring Festival in the mid-1990s, despite fierce public opposition. Some of the cities gave the green light to fireworks again in the late 1990s, setting up certain regions for fireworks.
Air pollution in China is caused by huge energy consumption, mainly fossil fuel, and cannot be addressed soon. The central government estimates China’s energy consumption will reach its peak in 2030.
To curb emissions from factories and automobiles, the government closed many energy-consuming enterprises, and limited the use of private cars in large cities.
But air pollution seems unabated, and Chinese people seem increasingly numb to the harm caused by air pollution to their health. A recent joint research by the Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization, and Peking University showed more than 250,000 people died prematurely because of air pollution in 31 major Chinese cities in 2013.
When Beijing and Shanghai host important international conferences, governments take the harshest measures, suspending production and banning cars from roads to reduce air pollutants.
When cities are enshrouded in thick smog, people habitually point their fingers at the government, criticizing its inability to clean the air. But they still drive their cars into the smog, turning a deaf ear to the government’s appeal to use public transportation.
Setting off fireworks also causes fires and safety accidents. In 2009, a new building belonging to the CCTV in Beijing’s downtown area caught fire because of fireworks, causing a loss of nearly 2 billion yuan. And it is estimated hundreds of children lose their eyes or fingers each year across the country because of fireworks during Spring Festival.