China Beat Archive



Alex Pasternack

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August 6, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright August 6, 2008 Alex Pasternack. Used by permission.


For an idea of what kind of air athletes and spectators can expect during the Olympics–and what Beijingers can expect for some time to come–the past week has offered telling indications.

Or it hasn’t.

At the start of last week, for the fourth day in a row, emissions made it hard to see down the street, despite the fact the government ordered half the city’s cars off the road and closed factories. Officials said they would implement an emergency contingency plan on top of the existing anti-smog measures if pollution lingers closer to the Games.

Twenty-four hours later, the difference was night-and-day: thanks to a series of thunderstorms, triggered in part by the government’s arsenal of rainmaking rockets, the following days were dramatically better, like a nice day in New York.

And then, on Monday, following a gasp of fresh air over the weekend, and what some thought was the last of the pollution, Beijing breathed through one of its worst pollution days yet. From the Olympic Green, the city was covered in a veil of white, making it, and even the Bird’s Nest stadium, practically vanish.

The vast disparity in pollution levels despite serious efforts to control them says as much about Beijing’s general grasp on the country’s environmental problems as it does about its last-ditch attempt to banish those problems for the months of the Olympics and Paralympics.