Winds of change in Hebei

Updated: 2016-01-08 07:12

(China Daily)

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Winds of change in Hebei

Smoke rises from a chimneys of a steel mill on a hazy day in Fengnan district of Tangshan, Hebei province February 18, 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

The wind has turned out to be savior of smog-fearing residents in North China.

Yet, we cannot afford to choke when there is no wind.

So, on the first working day of the year, the central government dispatched a high-profile inspection team to Hebei province, which has been commonly identified as the main culprit responsible for the poisonous air throughout North China.

Both the province's Party secretary and its governor have been reprimanded from on high for not tackling the province's air pollution more effectively.

With direct pressure from the very top, we are confident some improvement will be seen. After all, the remarkable shades of blue we have seen in recent years - from "Olympic Blue", "APEC Blue" to "Parade Blue" - have shown that a strong political will can indeed paint a better picture.

Yet we also know how pricey those blue skies were. They would not have been possible had there not been freezes on construction work and factory production. Given the central leadership's sense of urgency over pollution control, Hebei will have to show credible changes soon. The question is how.

They can maneuver a few blue skies by adopting the same ploys that produced those much-praised "blues". But that is too costly to be sustainable.

Most pollutant emitters in Hebei are small rural enterprises such as steel mills that operate using primitive technology. Doing away with such wasteful and dirty facilities makes sense in both environmental and macroeconomic terms and would be conducive to upgrading the local economic structure.

But, as a local official said in a recent interview, those polluting factories provide the livelihoods for many families. Is it fair to have them closed without offering an alternate way for people to make a living?

A well-thought-out support program is needed to deal with the unemployment or reemployment that will result from closing these polluting enterprises.