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Smoggy marathon touches public nerve on air pollution

2014-10-20 09:24 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

Beijing's annual international marathon took place Sunday as scheduled, despite the city being engulfed by heavy smog, which saw a great number of runners wearing masks. The Air Quality Index in downtown Beijing showed that the level of PM2.5 was around 245 micrograms per cubic meter on average, a "severely polluted level" according to Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, and also a hazardous level for outdoor activities.

Forecasts had predicted a bout of heavy smog would hit the city several days before the event, but race organizers didn't respond proactively until one night before, putting a notice on its official Sina Weibo account. It warned participants of the smog and suggested an immediate withdrawal if they felt uncomfortable. However, the question of whether the committee should actively postpone or even call off the event due to the polluted conditions was soon mooted by the public online. Race organizers responded by saying that it was unrealistic to do so because more than 30,000 people from 55 nations and regions had signed up to run.

But since then, a public debate has raged in which organizers were criticized for ignoring the health of racers. Browsing through Chinese social media, we could find many runners had decided to drop out before the race.

The mood of the people toward air pollution, especially smog, fills China's public discourse. Negative emotions such as complaints, discontent, sarcasm and anger are intertwined because almost everyone is a stakeholder. When the gray veil shrouds an entire city, all are victims.

It is hard to figure out a timeline to fix the air pollution, but it is sure to be a long process. This means such resentments harbored by the general public will not simmer down rapidly. Since smog has been raised as a top concern in some areas, more contradictions will probably emerge between the air problem and other social benefits. Many Beijing citizens are calling to take leave from work on "severely polluted days."

City authorities have to realize that it is equally important they give emphasis to finding a physical solution to smog and calming public emotions at the same time. Although smog should not be the decisive factor in the process of policymaking, it has to serve as an important element for consideration, even at a cost of some minor benefits of the government.

For the public, it is equivalent to a positive posture, meaning the government has attached great importance to the problem. It is an effective way to compromise with public emotions and winning over consensus among the public as widely as possible to deal with air pollution.

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