Whatever your views on the proper role of government in societal, cultural, and economic affairs, few would argue against the government’s role (if not duty) in helping to confront the myriad environmental problems facing modern industrialized societies.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Beijing officials are considering how to leverage measures used in the lead up to the Olympics (which included the relocation and closure of hundreds of polluting factories near Beijing, the temporary cessation of construction activities in and around the city, and restrictions on the number of cars on the roads) to keep Beijing’s air cleaner on a more permanent basis.
In case you missed it, during the Olympics, the levels of most major pollutants in Beijing was reduced by about half, to levels more typically seen in major developed cities in the West.
According to the Wall Street article,
The government recently has encouraged an unusual amount of public debate over what price the city is willing to pay for cleaner air. It has published the results of opinion polls on automobile restrictions that show the public more or less split.
The article also noted:
[Officials have been considering] steps [such as] increasing parking fees to discourage driving; charging people to drive in congested downtown areas, as London and some other cities do; and auctioning license plates to reduce the number of cars added to the roads.
Curbing auto use [however] could hurt one of China’s pillar industries, car-industry advocates warn. The Beijing Auto Industry Association instead advocates higher fuel prices — a move also favored by some environmentalists who want a long-discussed fuel tax enacted.
Just yesterday, the government announced a new set of plans (see Xin Hua araticle and Washington Post article) that aims to remove some 300,000 of the most heavily polluting vehicles from the road over the next year. In addition, normal cars will be restricted off the road one day out of the week (which day depends on the license plate number). The plan also calls for removing 30% of government vehicles off the road at any given one time.
The plans appear to be multifaceted. According to the Washington Post article,
In addition to the traffic changes, businesses will begin staggering their hours, with large department stores opening at 10 a.m. and other offices beginning work between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., state media reports said. Parking fees downtown will also be increased to encourage people to use public transportation. The rules will last until April, when officials will decide whether to continue the restrictions.
While the impact of these new rules will have to be assessed in the future, there is no doubt that many people in Beijing do want some actions taken.
Car salesman Liu Ce, manager of Beijing Xinshan Trade Center, said the city should do more to improve public transportation “so that people will choose public transportation naturally instead of forcing people to do so or irritating people who want to buy new cars.”
[But many also] questioned whether government drivers would obey the new rule and said motorists feel overwhelmed.
“Drivers already feel numb,” said telecommunications engineer Li Haibin, 29. “People got used to the faster driving times during the last few months. Now, wherever I go, there’s a traffic jam.”
What are your thoughts about these new regulations?
Do you think they will lead to better air in Beijing on a more permanent basis?
Should the government do more? If so, what else should the government do?