On SAGE Insight: Actual Air Pollution, Environmental Transparency, and the Perception of Air Pollution in China


From The Journal of Environment & Development

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Severe air pollution is causing major health problems and consequences in China, with it posing a serious threat to the country’s economic sustainability. As a predominant subjective measure of environmental performance at local levels, public perceptions of air pollution are critical for influencing emotional and behavioral responses to air pollution.

This study uses data from the China Social Survey 2013, the Ministry of Environment Protection of China and the Institute of Public & Environment Affairs. Using a two-level ordered logistic regression model and a large-scale data set that covers 62 cities in China, this study empirically examines the relationship between actual and perceived air pollution and the moderating effect of environmental transparency on that relationship with a multilevel ordered logistic strategy.

While acknowledging that perceptions of air pollution are greatly influenced by a series of individual characteristics, these findings emphasize the perception of air pollution that is greatly embedded in and influenced by city-level economic, social, and political settings. findings suggest that the air quality of different localities in China still plays an important role in the formation of individual perceptions of air pollution. On one hand, public attention has been directed by the severity of air pollution. As air pollution is highly tangible and visible and often affects human senses, air pollution problems in many Chinese cities are much more severe, compared with the air quality in many developed countries, thereby giving rise to the scenario that the public have been incentivized to be sensitive to changes in air quality, in a visible way. In addition, with the widespread use of the Internet as well as a wide-ranging discussion on air pollution problems by the Chinese mass and social media, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the pollution issues, which compelled public attention to focus on real-time air quality readings and relevant threats associated with physical health. On the other hand, the allocation of public attention is directed and fixed to a series of environmental issues as a result of the central government’s political agenda for solving environmental problems. Therefore, the context of severe air pollution can effectively break through the bottleneck of public attention, thereby directing public attention to the issues of air pollution problem among a large number of highly competitive public issues.

Abstract

Using data from the China Social Survey 2013 and statistics from the Ministry of Environment Protection of China and the Institute of Public & Environment Affairs, this study empirically examines the relationship between actual and perceived air pollution and the moderating effect of environmental transparency on that relationship with a multilevel ordered logistic strategy. Estimations indicate a significant congruence of actual (both particulate matter less than 10 µm in diameter and sulfur dioxide) and perceived air pollution. More importantly, environmental transparency of local government is found to moderate the relationship between actual and perceived air pollution by neutralizing the halo effects and building more alert perceptions when local air quality deteriorates. Our findings not only challenge the work of identifying a mismatch of actual–perceived air pollution in some developed countries but also suggest that, apart from abating actual air pollution, environmental transparency should be emphasized and strengthened in institutional buildings to help address pollution challenges in developing countries.


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Article details

Actual Air Pollution, Environmental Transparency, and the Perception of Air Pollution in China

Minggang Peng1 , Hui Zhang1,2, RichardD. Evans3, Xiaohui Zhong4, and Kun Yang5
First Published January 10, 2019 Research Article
DOI: 10.1177/1070496518821713
The Journal of Environment & Development


     
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