Man vs. Man and Nature at the Beijing Olympics, Round Two
Back in May I blogged about the Chinese government’s plans to keep it from raining during the Olympics, as well as their pollution reduction efforts.
The latest phase of the pollution fight is now kicking in: banning half the cars from the roads each day based on whether the license plate number ends in an even or odd number.
For the sake of the athletes, let’s hope the scheme works better in Beijing than does a similar plan in place in Mexico City. We recently published a piece in the Journal of Political Economy written by Michigan economist Lucas Davis. He looks at the pollution impact of only allowing each car to drive six days a week in Mexico City based on the license plate number.
He finds that, if anything, the rule makes pollution worse. Why? Most likely because people keep junky old cars around longer after they buy a new car, and they use the high-polluting junker on days when their Prius is prohibited from driving (although I am guessing there are not many Priuses in Mexico City). The rules also led more people to take taxis, which at that time were Volkswagen Beetles and apparently were among the worst offenders when it came to emissions.
The Beijing plan might work better. First, it takes time for people to find ways around the constraints imposed by the rule. It is quite possible it will work better in the short run than in the long run, when people have had a chance to adjust like they have in Mexico City. Second, banning half the cars might work better than banning one-seventh of the cars.
If all else fails, the Chinese government presumably is in charge of the pollution monitors in Beijing. Perhaps it is enough that the athletes (or the world) think the air is clean even if it isn’t. The official readings are surely much easier to tinker with than the habits of millions of drivers.