Thursday, December 17, 2015
In China, Diners Pay for Clean Air With Their Entree
BEIJING — Has clean air become such a luxury in Chinathat restaurants can charge patrons for it?
That question raged on Tuesday after Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that a restaurant in the eastern province of Jiangsu was doing just that. The restaurant, in Zhangjiagang, near Shanghai, was adding 1 renminbi, or about 15 cents, per customer as a “clean air fee.”
The restaurant’s move came a week after Beijing issued its first-ever “red alert” over air pollution, causing the capital to come to a virtual standstill. Though the alert ended late last week, the issue of toxic air plaguing Chinese cities has raised fears that the country is trading a healthy livingenvironment for rapid economic growth.
On social media, the debate about the restaurant charge was divided between those contending that clean air is a basic right, not a commodity, and those who countered that the restaurant incurred costs to install purifiers to clean the air and is thus entitled to charge for that service.
Xinhua quoted an unidentified official in Zhangjiagang as saying that air was a natural resource essential for humanity’s continued existence and that the restaurant had a duty to provide a clean environment, including air. The restaurant had been given seven days to retract the fee, Xinhua reported.
A post on a website run by the Zhangjiagang government said such fees were unreasonable.
But it also demanded an alternative approach. “It is those who pollute the air who should be made to pay,” the post read.
A commentary in The Beijing Times on Tuesday argued that the clean air fee should serve as a reminder to people inChina that “if we fail to deal with air pollution, sooner or later we will pay the price.”
Some online commenters felt the restaurant was just looking for new ways to increase revenue. “This is simply cashing in over a national crisis,” one wrote on Weibo, adding that the restaurant “should be severely punished.”
Others defended the restaurant. “Breathing clean air during a meal for just 1 renminbi, that’s a good deal!” another person wrote.
A person who answered the telephone at Jing Yue Hui confirmed that it had been charging for clean air but that it had stopped doing so. She said it had nine air purifiers but declined to answer other questions.
Air quality monitors in Zhangjiagang on Tuesday gave readings for PM 2.5, the fine particulate matter considered most dangerous to human health, of 265 to 268 a cubic meter. This is more than 10 times the healthy maximum of 25 set by the World Health Organization.