President Moon Jae-in ordered the cabinet to find ways to work together with the Chinese government to combat fine-dust pollution. He ordered the early closure of aging coal-fueled thermal power stations, the installment of commercial air purifiers at preschool institutions and schools across the nation and road restriction on cars. The measures have been proposed to fight the worst — and longest — streak of smog that has disrupted people’s everyday lives and endangered public health. Yet the proposals are mostly impromptu ideas that raise questions about their effectiveness.
The president emphasized cooperation with China. He proposed joint projects on artificial rain around the West Sea and joint forecasting of fine dust. Whether Beijing will go along with the plan remains doubtful. Seoul can find itself in an awkward — or even embarrassing — position by pressing the campaign on a proud and powerful state. Seoul authorities attempted artificial rain in January, but it ended up a failure due to poor preparation. Beijing will also not agree to the project if China is painted as the culprit of Korean air pollution. Moreover, the China factor is the not the sole problem behind the problem.
Various factors are involved in today’s air disaster. The solution, therefore, cannot be simple. Reduced operation of coal-fueled power stations could lead to hikes in electricity fees as long as the policy of phasing out nuclear reactors stays intact. How supply can be kept up by reducing power generation from coal plants should be looked into first. The dust pollution problem involves various aspects — industry, environment, traffic and energy. Even if it takes time, a long-term roadmap must be drawn up for a lasting, fundamental solution. Leaving the problem to the Environment Ministry and other government offices won’t do. The government should invite experts from home and abroad to find mid- and long-term solutions.
The president talked of creating an extra budget, if necessary, to install air purifiers in schools and public spaces. Yet along with urgent measures, authorities must first remove the causes of dust pollutants. The Blue House ordered staff to use public transportation and avoid taking cars except those running on clean fuels like electricity. The move is commendable, but an exhibitionist action from 1,000 Blue House staff members won’t be a great solution to the pollution.