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China Declares ‘War On Smog,’ May Deploy Pollution-Fighting Drones

By Emily Atkin

"China Declares ‘War On Smog,’ May Deploy Pollution-Fighting Drones"

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A Chinese paramilitary police officer stands guard as Tiananmen Gate is shrouded by a haze of pollution in Beijing Monday, March 3, 2014.

A Chinese paramilitary police officer stands guard as Tiananmen Gate is shrouded by a haze of pollution in Beijing Monday, March 3, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has officially “declared war” on the country’s horrific and tragic smog problem — and the country’s weapon of choice may be drones, according to media reports.

Li said China’s pollution crisis — which scientists in Beijing have compared to the effects of a nuclear winter — has gotten so bad that the country must take drastic measures to cut down on pollution. Those measures, Li said at the annual opening of Parliament on Wednesday, include plans to reduce toxic gases by banning high-emission cars and closing coal-powered furnaces.

But according to a report in Quartz, those plans may also include deploying an entire fleet of smog-clearing drones, which are currently in development. The unmanned flying vehicles would be able to carry 700 kg (1,543 lb) of smog-clearing chemicals that could help push smog out of the air within a three-mile radius. That wouldn’t exactly eliminate the smog, but it would help with immediate effects of being exposed to high concentrations of pollution.

Spraying chemicals into the sky to fight pollution is not exactly new though, as Quartz notes, saying Beijing’s Weather Modification Bureau has been using fixed-wing drones that help clear up the sky before major political events by using chemicals that cause pollutants in the air to solidify and fall to the ground. The difference with the new drones is that they would be cheaper to maintain, according to Quartz.

There is reason, however, to be skeptical of China’s efforts to fight its choking pollution. Despite experiencing the worst air pollution on record in 2013, China last year approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity at a cost of $9.8 billion, according to a report compiled in January by Reuters. The increase in coal production in 2013 was six times bigger than the increase in 2012, when the administration approved just four coal projects with 16.6 million tonnes of annual capacity and a total investment of $1.2 billion.

In other words, in just one year, China added coal production capacity equal to 10 percent of total U.S. annual usage.

That news was startling, considering the country’s world-famous pollution, which has caused myriad health problems, marred cityscapes, and even gave an 8-year-old girl lung cancer. What’s more, the pollution has recently been confirmed to be caused by fossil fuel production, with coal at the forefront.

China’s plans announced Wednesday also lack legally binding plans to reach national air quality standards with clear timelines, cap regional coal consumption, or strengthen pollution-reduction supervision efforts.

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