China embraces public activists – in battling pollution
March 17, 2017
Christian Science Monitor
SHIFT IN THOUGHT
As it moves to address the environmental toll of three decades of intense economic growth, the Chinese government is cautiously working with people who help expose polluters through social media and the release of real-time pollution data.
DEZHOU, CHINA — Duan Shumin is still getting used to her new surroundings on the outskirts of this city in Shandong province, some 200 miles south of Beijing. Factories that make everything from asphalt to xylitol, a sweetener used in gum, line the roads leading to the apartment she moved to last July. On a recent afternoon, the air is thick with the scent of petroleum and burnt plastic.
“This is an average day,” Ms. Duan says while stopped at an intersection in her black SUV. She has rolled down the windows to make her point. “When the smell is really bad it makes me feel like I’m going to vomit.”
Fed up with what she considers half-hearted efforts to curb industrial emissions – the source of the smell – Duan has taken to Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, to report on polluting factories. Every day she or a friend posts a photograph of a different location in the city along with current air pollution levels. She uses a mobile app to look up real-time emission data from surrounding factories and writes public messages to notify environmental-protection officials of violators. She has also created a discussion group on WeChat, the Chinese mobile-messaging service, to recruit other local residents to her cause.
“Public awareness is growing and the government can’t stand the pressure,” Duan says. “It has to do something about it.”
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