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Millionaire fights pollution with thin air

  

REUTERS

BEIJING: China’s foulest fortnight for air pollution in memory has rekindled a tongue-in-cheek campaign by a multimillionaire with a streak of showmanship who is selling canned fresh air.

Chen Guangbiao, who made his fortune in the recycling business and is a high-profile philanthropist, today handed out soda pop-sized cans of air, purportedly from far-flung, pristine regions of China such as Xinjiang in the northwest to Taiwan, the southeast coast.

“I want to tell mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies: Don’t just chase GDP growth, don’t chase the biggest profits at the expense of our children and grandchildren and at the cost of sacrificing our ecological environment”, Chen said.

China’s air quality is closely watched as it fluctuates dramatically from day to day but in recent weeks has registered far into the unhealthy zone.

Air pollution is measured in terms of PM2.5, or particulate matter 2.5 micrometres in diameter, which are absorbed by the lungs and can cause heart and lung disease.

The World Health Organisation recommends a daily PM2.5 level of 20 and says that levels greater than 300 are serious health hazards.

Beijing’s air quality frequently surges past a level of 500, and on January 12 soared to 755, the highest in memory.

“I go outside, walk for about 20 minutes, and my throat hurts and I feel dizzy”, Chen told Reuters in an interview on a busy Beijing sidewalk.

He handed out green and orange cans of “Fresh Air”, with a caricature of himself on them saying, “Chen Guangbiao is a good man”.

“Be a good person, have a good heart, do good things,” reads a message along the bottom of each can.

The 44-year-old entrepreneur, whose wealth is estimated at $740 million, is an ebullient and tireless self-promoter.

He is something of a celebrity in China, with more than 4 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like microblogging platform.

The entrepreneur concedes that his canned-air effort is tongue in cheek, but says it’s a way to awaken people to the importance of environmental protection.

His campaign is attracting bemusement but also plaudits from the media and from people desperate to escape the smog.

“Beijing’s air really needs to improve, so we need a good man like him to appear,” said a 21-year-old resident surnamed Hu. “It reminds people to use less fuel and do what they can for Beijing’s air”.

The cans of air were free today, but usually sell for 5 yuan (80 cents) with proceeds going to poor regions of China, and places of historic revolutionary importance.

Comments1

In the popular mind, disease is usually attributed to germs. The fact is, disease results from a complicated interaction between man and his environment. The food he eats, the air he breathes, the genetic traits he was born with, the physical and mental stresses he endures, no less than the microbes to which he is exposed, all help determine whether he will be healthy or sickly. Thus it is clear that one measure of health is not the total absence of all disease but the ability to function effectively within a given environment. Whether the Leaders of each nation has effectively carried out a program or has given equal weightage to balance economic growth and environmental issues need not be heard. It could be seen and felt by its people. I wish all the Chinese citizens all the best in their effort to reduce pollution. George Martin Leen , Singapore

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