When I was in high school, a girl on my sailing team was from Beijing. When I asked her about why she liked East Hampton, she said, ”I like that I can see the sun.” Despite attempts by Chinese officials to improve urban air quality, it still remains almost unbearable. Even in 1997, the World Bank noted that “ambient concentrations of particulates and sulfur dioxide in many Chinese cities are among the highest in the world and are significantly above World Health Organization guidelines and Chinese air quality standards” (Brajer, Mead 2004). China’s poor air quality contributes to the deaths of nearly 1.6 million people in China every year (Rohde 2015). These deaths are the result of daily inhalation of airborne particles about 2.5 microns in diameter leading to asthma, strokes and lung cancer (Levin 2015).
China is notably the world’s largest producer of coal, “the worst fossil fuel for both local and global pollutant emissions”. From 1980 to 1997, coal supplied China with 70-76% of its commercial energy (Nielsen 2007). At the beginning of China’s economic growth in the late 1970s, China attempted to implement an environmental protection system in order to keep the pollution caused by rapid industrialization at bay. In actual practice, this systems guidelines are rarely followed (Shaw 2010). In 2014, Li Keqiang, China’s Prime Minister, declared a “war” on air pollution (The Economist 2015).
In November of last year, China’s State Council whipped up a draft law that proposes “green” taxes on pollutants in water, air, solid waste and noise in order to hold companies more accountable for their waste and encourage them to go the extra mile in order to protect the environment. This will be a great improvement from the current system of pollution fees that was instituted in 1982. This system had fees that were not compulsory and were uncollected. Other critics of the system say that it was unclear where the revenue from the fees were allocated. This new law would greatly impact on China’s heaviest polluting industries like steel, concrete, coal and chemicals by increasing their costs by about 2-5% (Zhang 2015). China’s hopefuls say that the implementation of this tax will be beneficial to both the environment and economy, funding projects in both central and local governments, however, this law will be pending until an upswing in the overall Chinese economy.