After announcing its first red alert on Dec. 7, Beijing's local government is once again advising locals to stay inside from Saturday through Tuesday, and will be restricting the amount of traffic allowed on roads, according to a tweet posted by CCTV News, one of the major state-controlled broadcasters in China.
The announcements appear to be signs of the government's growing desire to show an increasingly vocal public that it is taking steps to address the environmental problems that have attended China's economic growth.
Coal is one of the major fuels that has literally powered that growth — China is the world's largest user of coal, and some evidence suggests the country may be burning even more of it than previously thought.
Fossil fuels, industrialization and a dramatic rise in driving have all left the air nearly unbreathable in many areas, and the red alert system was a way to reduce pollution and protect health on days when the smog is expected to be especially bad.
But why is the government suddenly issuing red alerts, after letting the program lie fallow for so long?
"I was quite surprised they issued a second red alert so soon after the first one," said Jennifer Turner, who heads the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center. But she thinks there could be a few reasons for the spike.
First, the government has been working on improving its air quality-monitoring technology since its air pollution became a news story a few years ago. They might feel more confident in their measurements now than they have in the past, she said.
Secondly, Beijing's air quality is awful, and the red alerts may be a way for the government to tell the public that further legal or policy changes lie ahead. "They could have some tough decisions ahead of them, and it may be a way to catalyze more action on this," she said.
Thirdly, they might be responding to louder and louder signals of discontent from the Chinese public.