Thanks for the Blue Skies, G20 Hangzhou

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A view of downtown Shanghai on August 18

For many people, this photo is nothing to write home about it. Being able to see a blue sky peeking through the clouds on a sunny day is commonplace, after all. It wasn’t something I thought much about until I moved to a country where a summer sky is more likely to resemble the grayish-blue hue of exhaust smoke than the bright azure I always knew when I was growing up in Miami.

People from China’s east coast, where a huge portion of the country’s industry is based, appreciate a clear day when they have one. And this year’s G20 summit is bringing weeks of gorgeous weather to the region as China prepares for an influx of foreign leaders and media.

Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau has ordered factories in the region to shut down in the weeks leading to the environmental conference, which will take place in the nearby city Hangzhou on September 4-5. Although Reuters reported factory closures would begin August 26,  my recent ability to take deep breaths of fresh air seems to indicate that some may have shut their doors a bit earlier.

The government is taking several steps to ensure the clear blue hue (already dubbed by Chinese media and social media as “G20 blue”) will endure until the end of the summit.

According to China Daily, “environmental protection inspectors will patrol key transportation areas, such as the airport, railway station and highways to catch emission violators and to prevent the burning of crop waste and garbage.” In addition to Shanghai, neighboring provinces are also reducing or halting production in an effort to keep the skies G20-blue for the upcoming conference.

International meetings tend to result in clear air in China.The notoriously smoggy Beijing was free of its hallmark air pollution when it hosted a meeting of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 2014. To achieve “APEC-blue” skies, the government stopped production in 10,000 factories and reduced production in another 39,000 in the provinces surrounding Beijing.

It speaks to the enormity of China’s air pollution problem that the government is shutting down industry in a major region (which I assume must have some kind of economic consequence) for at least two weeks in order to give Hangzhou the illusion of a clean environment. Because whatever appears in photos or on television during the conference’s coverage will be just that: an illusion. Something tailor-made for media consumption.

But I’m still going to enjoy it while I can!

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