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China Voice: Living better or living green?

By Wang Aihua (Xinhua)

10:50, January 16, 2013

BEIJING, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- China is banking on a cold snap to blow away lingering dense smog that has shrouded many cities since the weekend. But the seasonal hazard will probably always be an uninvited guest without the public's conscientious participation in the country's green storm.

The government can easily be at fault for slack supervision over industrial pollution, but people have to look at their own contributions to the aggregation of PM2.5, a sensitive science jargon that touched Chinese nerves after they came to know the particle's threat to their health more than a year ago.

The haze has prompted Chinese people to think over a question: What do we want, breathtaking growth or taking a breath amid choking air?

Years of extensive economic growth, driven by the desire of a once impoverished people to become better off, has led to surging levels of carbon dioxide emissions and random discharge of hazardous chemicals by industrial manufacturers.

Voices that call for environmental improvements are loud, but the government is caught in the dilemma between sustaining its people's twin dreams of "living better" and "living green."

Shutting down factories risks an increase in unemployment. Levying higher taxes on automobiles and limiting the number of vehicle plates would discourage consumption, a major engine for economic growth.

On the one hand, better-off Chinese people aspire for more comfortable lifestyles with bigger houses, automobiles, and air-conditioning, but on the other, these modern possessions put tighter strains on the environment.

An interesting example is the recent online debate about whether to offer residents in the country's southern regions central heating services.

The agenda seemed an imminent challenge for policy makers considering the unusual cold in the south this winter, and southerners have the right to call for the benefit of heating.

Without careful planning, however, the extension of central heating services to the south risks more pollution because coal, the main fuel for heating in the country, is a major pollutant to the air.

Society functions like a set of dominoes. Fighting pollution in China requires the concerted efforts of all social links and when it comes down to individual cases, everyone has a part to play.

As the hazardous smoggy weather continues, people are calling for actions to change the situation. And the key is partly in their own hands. They have to help strike a balance between "living better" and "living green."

Smog is expected to disperse on Wednesday as strong wind sweeps parts of China, but it still might come next year and the year after next while factories, cars and furnaces continue to emit these particles.

With such a large population to sustain in the country, as well as large parts of environmentally fragile territory, Chinese people's dream of living like Americans currently seems a bit luxurious if they want to help preserve the eco-system.

It may be too unrealistic to rely on individuals' conscience for environmental improvement. Luckily, the government is mapping a blueprint to build a "beautiful China" by seeking a sustainable mode of development.

Everyone has the right to criticize the government for environmental concerns, but they have to take their own actions if they want change.

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