Magazine / October 2013

Keeping the momentum — strengthening the call for a faster timeline

Dongying Wei and her husband Guantong Shao have been investigating environmental pollution for over a decade.

Dongying Wei and her husband Guantong Shao have been investigating environmental pollution for over a decade.

© Lu Guang / Greenpeace

There were moments that I worried public attention would fade away. There are so many environmental disasters in China at any one time.

SEE THE INFOGRAPHIC The coal hard truth about air pollution

I feared that during seasons in which air quality improved, public attention would drop. And I was simply one of many trying to keep up this public momentum.

Tactics were adopted by different participants accordingly: there were NGOs continuously pushing for better PM2.5 information disclosure, experts pushing for more comprehensive public health impacts studies, MEP officials calling for wider regional control, and the media digging up every aspect of China's air pollution story. As for Greenpeace, we decided to stick with what we are good at - bridging science with a sexy public campaign. In 2012, echoing the ongoing discussion, we launched the following activities: 

1. High impact visuals, photographic evidence and infographics highlighting the key role fine particles PM2.5 play in the vast majority of visible haze or smog.

2. We created alliances with public health experts from Peking University, and launched a new research project examining mortality caused by PM2.5. In December 2012 this report was released right as another severe pollution episode hit Beijing. It provided arsenal to urge for faster timelines of improved air quality, which had already been adopted by other health experts and some government officials. 

3. Fun public activities were designed to entice the public to ask questions such as: what’s contributing to PM2.5 pollution and what should be done about it? We also kicked off volunteer field research in three major cities in December 2012 and early 2013. The research involved sampling the air people were breathing, with laboratory testing for heavy metals from coal. Photos of the blackened filters drew huge interest on Weibo, and many users, among them celebrities, helped spread our message. The discussion continued to go viral.

Beijing air pollution

Tourists in Tian'anmen Square stand near a fake, blue-sky backdrop for photos. © Greenpeace / Yin Kuang

Greenpeace was now at the forefront of a tidal change that included support from the public and from think tanks within the government itself. PM2.5 data and health numbers were making daily news, and people left, right and center were pushing hard for real solutions and a faster timeline. The public had become aware that with each day these solutions were being delayed, thus the larger the health risks grew.