Temporary Bans + Bacon Shaming = China’s War on Pollution

So, apparently the practice of smoking bacon is a (major) contributor to the smog problem that has been plaguing much of China. At least this is according to Rao Bing, an official in the Dazhou Environment Protection Bureau in China’s Sichuan Province.

Made in response to the severe air pollution that affected the Dazhou region during the beginning days of 2015, the official’s response has been (understandably) pounced on by netizens, commenting on the region’s “bacon-smelling skies” and how “smoking bacon has a long history, but smog does not.”


This new bacon “theory” of his brings an important issue to light, though. Officials (even one from an Environmental Protection Bureau) either cannot agree on causes or will not allow transparency when it comes to reporting air pollution data to the masses. So what is really behind the ongoing problem—despite the country’s supposed “war on pollution”—that has China’s citizens contending with some of the worst air pollution the nation has ever experienced? Let’s look at the major culprits:

  • Coal consumption for energy and industrial needs:  Still a dominant energy source
  • Automobile emissions:  China tops the United States and Europe in car sales
  • Increasing factory emissions:  The result of keeping pacing with the incredible rate of urbanization in China

China is by far the world’s largest coal producer and consumer. The majority of China’s energy sources come from coal, with estimates varying from 65–80%. And let’s not forget the CO2 emissions—along with sulfur dioxide (SO2)—which comes from coal burning. This is also responsible for much of the Particulate Matter (PM) in the air—specifically, PM 2.5. This refers to PM with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, which, when present in the air we breathe, can lead to all kinds of respiratory problems.

The severity of air pollution is further compounded when atmospheric conditions result in inversion (or similar phenomena), where pollution is essentially “trapped” close to the ground. The city of Chengdu has experienced this all too often as of recent.

So, what’s being done?

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. China has already “been there, done that” I suppose. Hearing the Mayor of Beijing actually admit that the city is “unlivable” is certainly a step in the right direction. It also seems that the government, as a whole, is starting to step up and is willing (hopefully) to demonstrate more transparency in their reports. This is most likely the result of increased scrutiny on the world stage. Euromonitor International recently published a report which notes that Beijing (among many others) had a decline in tourists for 2013, specifically because of pollution. That comes as no surprise as, according to China’s Environmental Protection Ministry, seven of the 10 most polluted cities in China are around Beijing (primarily in Hebei Province). Overall, approximately 90% of China’s large cities failed to meet official air safety standards in 2014.

Regarding actual cleanup and prevention efforts, there have been measures to reduce the use of coal in Hebei Province. (If there has been any improvement, it certainly has not been noticeable.) Additionally, a year ago Beijing announced a crackdown on the heaviest polluters—energy and manufacturing—in the region, with the construction of any new oil refining, steel, cement, and thermal power plants apparently banned. This includes construction for the expansion of existing facilities.

It certainly sounds like an effective way to combat poor air quality… but it doesn’t quite work if the ban is lifted, which it was for Sinopec, Asia’s largest oil refiner.

No matter how you look at it, it’s going to take more sweeping, long-term efforts to bring about a real change. Until then, for those unfortunate enough to be living in the cities most polluted, I guess you had better continue to stock up on face masks and air purifiers.