Proposing barbecue ban to ease smog is at least an admission of problem
Draft proposals for improving air quality submitted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection for public feedback are timely, given the smog that has blighted large parts of the mainland recently. But timing has not been matched by execution, with the feedback from internet users including scathing comments that it is "empty talk", that "we are not fools like some leaders", and asking "what is the ministry going to consider next?"
They were pouring scorn on a plan to enforce environmentally correct behaviour by ordinary citizens, as opposed to state-owned and private industrial enterprises. Proposals include a ban on barbecues and encouraging people to eat less fried food and improve the way meals are prepared. "Does anyone believe the smog will be easily controlled after a barbecue ban?" one internet user asked.
Some online comments suggested that the ministry was targeting average citizens because it could not come up with anti-pollution measures acceptable to the industries most responsible for pollution. It does seem as if the government is anxious to be seen to be "doing something". Indeed, a ministry official was quoted as saying the authorities hoped the proposals would sway wealthy citizens to set an example by reducing waste and curbing ostentatious lifestyles.
Such wishful thinking may have done little to improve its environmental credentials. But the first step towards fixing a problem is to admit that it exists. When all the smoke and fire about pouring cold water on the simple pleasure of a barbecue has subsided, the government will be seen to have admitted that, yes, there is a problem. And that is not just a flash in the pan. On the same day, Beijing unveiled its first blueprint to control the environmental and health risks of toxic chemicals. As a result, by 2015, the mainland is to get its first information based on the production, transport, use and discharge of chemicals, in line with international practice. That should make sobering reading and take the heat off barbecues.