I hope not to jinx it but I have to say it: Beijing Winter weather is becoming really great. Last year (2015-16) I was already surprised how blue the skies were a majority of the days but took it as an abnormality. The weather, I thought, would surely soon return to its true gray form. However, after many, many blue days and even weeks in a row people are right to start hoping that this may be becoming the norm.
So, as I am looking out of the window into a blue and almost cloudless Beijing Winter sky, I cannot help but wonder about the reasons why, which (spoiler alert) have to do with the government wanting the skies blue.
The traditional way of heating your home in Beijing was to burn coal in a stove at home. However, the government has phased out this rather old skool method and started to subsidize homes installing electric heating. The funny thing is that, at least in my opinion, those electric heaters are not very useful. They are really hot in their immediate vicinity but seem to not heat up any space beyond that. Anyway, the illusion of people having heating while avoiding smog is given. Win-win, at least on paper.
Very big and very useless
Enforcing existing rules and regulations
China, again at least on paper, is a country with a rule of law. The big question is, whether or not certain laws are being enforced. Since pollution and the environment have become priorities for government any laws that can somehow help the situation are being enforced more strictly. At times, these laws do not seem to have much to do with environmental conservation at all but if you think around a couple of corners you will get there. Example: Beijing is now strictly enforcing rules for roadside vendors operating without a license. In other words, somebody spreads a blanket on the floor, puts his or her goods on it and tries to sell. The so called cheng2guan3 城管 are in charge of cracking down on such business people, confiscating goods and fining people. However, in the past this was more of a laissez-faire matter so roadside vendors were very common while the cheng2guan3 officers would sit in their offices sipping tea. However, now that the rules are being enforced, you will see many more cheng2guan3 roaming the streets and, as a result, far less roadside vendors. How is this relevant in terms of pollution? These roadside vendors usually would venture into the Beijing city area on their tricycles or in their old cars which are less environmentally friendly than new cars with fuel efficient engines, pollution filters etc. By realizing that roadside vending is too risky to make a living these people do not venture into Beijing anymore and thereby reduce a) the total number of vehicles on the street, b) congestion and c) the average age of vehicles on the street (we assume that newer cars are more environmentally friendly).
Out of work for better air
While enjoying the beautiful weather in Beijing, one must also wonder if the initiatives of the Beijing government are actually solving the problem or just transplanting the problem to a different area. This obviously depends on how we define the problem. If we simply say that Beijingers should be entitled to better air then problem solved. This seems a little selfish though. That’s why the problem probably has to be one of pollution in general. In this respect the government likely still has a long road ahead.