Beijing is publicly shaming polluting companies on Weibo

After the past week spent battling hazardous levels of pollution in Beijing, city authorities are publicly shaming businesses, factories, and residential buildings that flout clean air policies. Beijing’s environmental agency has started posting photos and details of violators to its 680,000 followers on Weibo.Along with efforts to dispatch a higher number of inspectors to factories and industrial facilities, the agency’s Weibo account has been busy documenting findings brought back.

Beijing’s inspectors are seen on its Weibo dismantling and seizing machinery, and handing out fines to the polluters. A large portion of the violators were using unmaintained or obsolete coal-fired boilers used to provide hot water. Others include factories and plants that produce too much dust and illegal automotive spray painting booths.

Just in the last month, the agency has outed hundreds of violators.

This is a boiler in the Daxing district in Beijing, where the inspectors discovered that it was not installed properly:

daxing

IMAGE: WEIBO

This Beijing restaurant was found to be using coal, instead of clean energy, and has been “punished”, said the agency:

changping

IMAGE: WEIBO

China is no stranger to naming and shaming tactics. Officials announced in 2013 they would start publishing a monthly list of the most polluted cities in the country in an effort to humiliate them into compliance. Last year, Chinese environmentalists published a list of 1,000 companies that regularly exceed emissions standards. The country even has an appthat tracks and shames high-emission factories nationwide.

Public shaming is a favorite tactic used by the government in a country where “keeping face” is a major facet of society. Officials use shame to change social behavior and enforce policies. Beijing has publicly named and shamed smokers caught lighting up in non-smoking areas. Authorities have forced alleged dissidents and law breakers to make public confessions broadcast on national television.

But it’s questionable whether this latest attempt at public shame tackles the heart of Beijing’s smog issue. While it can curb bad behavior and lets the public know officials are taking action, coal-powered boilers probably don’t make up a very big slice of the pollution pie. Vehicle emissions, large-scale industrial operations like steel mills, and coal-reliant power plants that run the city’s central heating system are all to blame, along with the capital’s unfortunate geography that seems to trap in dirty air.

Beijing has done what it can within reason to limit the number of cars on the road, but industrial and power plants are noticeably missing from the list of violators. That’s likely because they are either state-run or are major contributors to the economy. Many of them are also outside Beijing boundaries, in neighboring provinces from which the smog is carried by the wind. Rather than going the shame route with bigger players, China has offered the least-polluting power plants financial incentives to pollute below par.

In 2013, authorities destroyed 500 illegal outdoor barbecues in the city, pointing the finger at local food vendors for the Beijing’s pollution woes. However, that rampage against skewered meat was widely viewed as a distraction for the real culprits. In that vein, this latest campaign against spray paint booths and coal-powered boilers could be seen as just be another diversion.

For the moment Beijing is off red alert status, which earlier this week closed schools, took half the cars off the road, and shuttered factories due to intense smog. Beijing reported the temporary emergency measures reduced pollutants by 30%.