The story: Even though basic common sense lends itself to the idea that pollution is bad, China's government is going another route. On Sunday, Chinese state media released a list of five "surprising benefits" of smog.
The top five reasons to love smog are ...
1. It unifies the Chinese people.
2. It makes China more equal.
3. It raises citizen awareness of the cost of China's economic development.
4. It makes people funnier.
5. It makes people more knowledgeable (of things like meteorology and the English word haze).
This truly spectacular list was originally published by Wang Lei, an editor for China Central Television's website. It has since been taken down. Because it spent so little time live, the editor's intentions are unclear — was it a joke? A mistakenly published piece? done totally seirously and on purpose? (I'd like to think so.) But soon after it was taken down, the Global Times published a piece extolling air pollution's virtuous properties as a clouding aspect of military defense — they can't hurt us if they can't see us ... even if we can't see us.
The background: It should come as no surprise that much of China has serious issues with air pollution and smog (but at least it doesn't have to deal with Smaug — that would probably be worse ... probably). The nation's toxic sky can be seen from space, is being tracked in real-time, and is the subject of constant discussion and analysis. One report links 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 to the pollution. Even with a push for green energy and at least partial recognition of pollution's negative effects, few measures have been taken to combat it.
The takeaway: While it's positive that the Chinese government is recognizing their problem and trying to do something about it, it's disheartening that a "Top 5" list is the best they can muster. Did they think people would buy this? It's almost hard to know is this was a serious list coming from the Chinese government or a failed submission to the Late Show with David Letterman.
Let's really consider each of the five points:
1. Unified how? As in "well, at least we all have something new to complain about together"?
2. As in, everyone is now equally disgusted, poor and rich alike?
3. It also raises citizen awareness of the cost of getting sick ... because of all the smog.
4. Wait, are smog and laughing gas the same thing? Does my dentist give me smog before he pulls my teeth out? If so, I'm going to find a new dentist.
5. But it also makes people less knowledgeable about other stuff, like what things look like, because nobody can see anything.
The Chinese government must realize it is no longer acceptable to tell your citizens lies and expect them to believe them. Not only is this list an insult to the Chinese people and their intelligence, it's also a symptom of a larger issue: China needs to stop screwing around and take real action to stop air pollution before it's too late.