With China’s economic shutdown due to the coronavirus, CNN discovered that the country’s air pollution has gone down significantly. CNN headlined its praise for China, “There’s an unlikely benefactor of coronavirus: The planet.”
CNN wrote that with shuttered factories and cleared streets, the lockdown “had an unintended benefit – blue skies.” The cable news network cited Chinese government data which claimed the average of “good quality air days” in the Chinese province of Hubei went up 21.5% in February 2020, compared to February 2019 data. Hubei was where the first cases of coronavirus were reported and the virus has since spread to multiple countries across the world.
NASA and European Space Agency data also highlighted “a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions” in major Chinese cities between January and February 2020, in addition to a lower presence of carbon dioxide emissions in China’s air.
CNN noted that China is the “world’s biggest polluter” and contributes 30% of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. But CNN’s sources said that they are worried that after the lockdown ends, the Chinese government will increase emissions “to higher levels than before the epidemic hit.”
As good as it sounds, CNN praised China for an inadvertent policy outcome: cleaner air and less air pollution. It admitted that it is not a permanent policy change, considering that the decrease in emissions will not likely last beyond the government-imposed lockdown. CNN should not praise China for a policy outcome that it did not intend to create because it is giving an authoritarian government credit for one example of good governance. By contrast, the cable news network did not air criticisms about the Chinese government’s information crackdown when the coronavirus was first diagnosed last year. The general consensus is that China’s information crackdown and the government’s denial of the coronavirus’s spread contributed to its spread across the world.
CNN’s article also did not link China’s emissions to climate change, which was unusual for CNN to omit. Not once did CNN mention the phrase “climate change” in its article.
CNN neglected to criticize China directly for not working with the international community to reduce its emissions. The mainstream media, CNN included, criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing from the Paris climate accords. But the media will not criticize China for its emissions output, which is much worse than the United States. CNN should treat China fairly and this article did not do so.