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perspective

Balancing air quality and use of fireworks


The controversy over fireworks and firecrackers during Spring Festival is not new. This year, many cities and provinces have issued stricter regulations on fireworks because of the serious air pollution across large parts of China last year.

Beijing has announced that setting off fireworks and firecrackers will be banned if there is an orange or red alert on air pollution. Shanghai has not only banned setting off fireworks within the outer ring road, but also requires people to register their real names and addresses when buying fireworks. And Shandong province in East China has reduced the number of shops retailing fireworks compared with last year.
The majority of the people know that the more fireworks are set off the more serious will be the air pollution, for they have been feeling the effects over the past years. To show how harmful effects of fireworks on the atmosphere, last year Shangguan Wenfeng, a professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University Combustion and Environment Technology Research Centre, and his team conducted a controlled experiment. In the 30-cubic-metre experiment chamber, the PM 2.5 index soared to 1230ìg/m3 after just three firecrackers were burst. Thus one can image how serious air pollution will be during Spring Festival when hundreds of millions fireworks are expected to be set off.
Having said that, one has to concede that setting off fireworks is a social issue rather than a scientific one. In the conflict between practicing customs and enjoying a healthy life, people tend to make choices according to their needs and knowledge.
In urban areas, however, public opposition to fireworks and firecrackers is stronger than ever because of the consequences of severe air pollution in the winter. 
For people, who have risen above the influence of traditions and customs, it is easy to give up the pleasure of setting off fireworks in exchange for some clean air during Spring Festival.
In a recent survey conducted by the Shanghai bureau of statistics, 89.4 per cent of the 2,509 respondents supported legislation to ban fireworks and firecrackers within the outer ring road. And local surveys in Shenyang, Northeast China’s Liaoning province, show that more than 50 per cent people prefer not to spend money on fireworks this year, with over 80 per cent supporting a move to reduce the setting off of fireworks for better air quality.
But tradition still prevails in rural areas, for people who believe that setting off fireworks and firecrackers is the best way to drive away evil spirits and seek the blessings of heaven. Many Chinese people who live and work in cities follow the tradition when they return rural home for Spring Festival, because it is a strong symbol of family reunion.
Conflicts between tradition and the demands of modern life do lead to social transition. Severe air pollution, and the resultant smog, harm human health, and should lead to social transition. But tradition still influences the activities of a large number of Chinese people. This means people usually take a long time to see reason and give up traditions and customs that can be harmful in modern society. Given this fact, society, especially the authorities, should make efforts to accelerate the transition process. Legislation, which some local authorities have already resorted to, is a good way to regulate people’s behaviours. Also, because an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the health hazards of air pollution, it is easier to promote regulations and bans on fireworks.
Moreover, advanced technology should be employed to help reduce air pollution, and strike a balance between enjoying a relatively healthy air quality and indulging in traditional practices. 
Some political advisers in Shaanxi province suggest replacing traditional fireworks with electronic ones, for they will reduce air pollution while allowing people to enjoy Spring Festival with all the traditional trappings. Such a suggestion is worth giving a try, perhaps with some changes.

Published : February 14, 2016

By : Wang Yiqing China Daily Asia