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China's Big Bang Theory: We've Gone Green

TAIPEI ( TheStreet) -- - When China gets covered in enough sooty pollution to make a volcano jealous, we can't blame the propaganda machinery for its output.

As the country winds up its two weeks of Lunar New Year celebrations on Saturday [Feb. 23], Xinhua says the holiday has "gone green." The official news agency means that fewer people dropped cherry bombs or sent exploding balls of fire into the air.

Fireworks tend to pick up bit by bit about half a month before the holiday. Once the two-week festivities formally start, fireworks create a staccato symphony so thick there's no silence -- just the purr of something like axes breaking through your walls -- and smoke so thick that it raises pollution levels in an already filthy country.

I acknowledge writing again about the old issue of air pollution. But the fireworks went on much as usual this year in most of China despite Xinhua's claim of green rather than greyish brown air. And there's more.

The news agency's Feb. 14 report follows other Chinese government statements about environmental progress, even when there isn't any. Such statements aim to fire up citizen participation in cleaning the air. They should not be confused with the reality of today's China.

Granted, some people went green instead of glaring red this year, and friends in several cities said they heard more pauses than usual between blasts. I imagine the growing crowd that leaves China every Lunar New Year for resorts in Southeast Asia or tours of Europe accounted for some of the silence.

But I also got one report that one city's fireworks went on from 1 a.m. straight through 9 a.m. During the Lunar New Year period last year pyrotechnics raised particulate matter levels in Beijing to about 1,600 micrograms per cubic meter -- 80 times pre-holiday levels.

I bring up fireworks not because they come close to the scale of industry, traffic or energy-inefficient buildings in causing China's notorious air pollution. I use them as a metaphor for why pollution as a whole persists in China despite calls for cleanups and great lists of rules to make them happen.
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