As Causecast.org recently reported, China is so desperate to get high-polluting cars off the roads of Beijing, the city government is willing to pay drivers $3,600 not to use their cars.
This comes at an interesting time for China as it battles its impacts on the environment, and perhaps equally important, how the rest of the world views its response. As the entire world watched during the lead up to the Olympics, the country managed to make some positive strides, including a city-wide ban on cars one day a week based on license plate numbers, which according to the Chinese government greatly reduced city-wide pollution.
This new initiative would take about 10 percent of the city’s 3.5 million registered cars off the roads – an amount that is estimated to account for 50 percent of the city’s notorious vehicle pollution.
(Photo Source: AP Images via Treehugger)
The Causecast.org article goes on to claim, “With the carrot comes a stick.”
Though people willing to trade in their heavily-polluting vehicles will be rewarded for their deeds, those who choose to continue driving their cars that do not meet a certain emission standard will be fined 100 yuan (approximately US$12), roughly 13% of the weekly income of the average Beijinger.
However, the catch is those who typically drive the heavily-polluting vehicles are those who fall on the lower end of the income bracket, not as the article points out, those who drive the Audis or Geelies.
Which brings us to an interesting paradox. As China has culturally and economically opened up to the West in the past years, one of the things to arrive and start to take root is the LOHAS lifestyle. Lin Hui, the founder of ditan360.com, a non-profit, environmental website about all things green in China, says that the LOHAS culture has become trendy in China, especially among young urbanites. Conversely, the cultural glasnost China is experiencing has led to other trends.
“To live a simple and frugal life has always been considered a virtue in our culture. We should have kept it,” says Lin. “Nowadays, tradition has been eroded by consumerism as we earn more money. People want to live in bigger houses and drive bigger cars.”
And this trend is seen in the nation’s auto sales. China is the second largest auto market in the world – behind the US – and auto sales have risen steadily by a double-digit rate each year for the past ten years.
However, as the Reuters news network reported yesterday, 2008 only marked a 7.27% rise in domestic auto sales. Though that’s still a rise in auto sales and a sign of the continued prosperity of the Chinese auto industry, a backbone of the country’s GDP, it is also a sign for many others that the world economic recession has hit.
So perhaps this new initiative comes at a great time. Something that incentivizes and rewards drivers to, in effect, help the environment in a time when dollars are dearer than ever.