Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Beijing Smog Blog

The Olympics are exactly one month away and the games have already begun.
We’re told that on July 1, 300,000 heavy polluting trucks, most of which roll into the city at night, were banned from Beijing.

Yet so far, nothing seems to have changed. If anything, it may have gotten worse.

Beijing smog watcher and reporter James Fallows suspects factories have increased production in recent months in order to reach their quotas before a forced 2-month shut down begins on July 20. Fallows has been taking semi-regular picture’s of Beijing’s air from his apartment window since moving to town last fall. Based on his images—see a couple pasted here—he may be on to something.

For a bit of contrast I’ve included a photo, taken July 2 from our little Shangri-La here in the western suburbs. Visibility changes day by day—more a reflection of humidity than anything else, though it’s often hard to tell when you’re swimming in it.

The real test for the city will come after July 20 when, in addition to closing factories, half the city’s cars will be pulled on any given day,
major construction will halt, and, supposedly, even spray painting
will be banned. If local measures don’t clear the air, it seems that factories across much of northern China will also shut down.

As fun as it is see if such a polluted city can clear its skies for a fleeting moment, I’m also encouraged to read that not all of the measures are temporary. Again, Fallows tells us that between 2000 and 2006—a time when Beijing’s population increased by 50 percent and paved roads doubled—the levels of all major pollutants—including ozone, nitrous oxide, benzene, etc—dropped. He attributes much of this to both a closing-or relocating-of the heaviest polluting factories and, more significantly, the introduction of tough auto emissions standards that surpass those of the US.

One month to go and part of me is counting down the days, anxiously waiting for the skyline of the city to magically open up before me. Another part of me saw the above satellite image (also from Fallow’s blog) showing all of northern China obscured by a thick haze and wonders if such a feat is really possible.



  1. I didn't know James Fallows had a blog, too. You're in good company!

    That's crazy about the smog there. It does seem hard to believe it's going to clear up a lot before the games begin...

  2. In case you haven't come across it: Beijing Airblog

    This guy posts infrequently but has done some pretty good sleuthing with the air stat shenanigans of local authorities.

  3. Hey Phil,

    Enjoyed reading your updates. Glad to hear that you all are enjoying Beijing. Fallows’ pictures bring back memories of my past summer in Beijing. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  4. Really liked your blog. What types of factories do they have there? What is an hourly rate for workers? Just curious...

    Are you still pinching yourself that you are on your Honeymoon?

    I am sooooo HAPPY for the two of you!


  5. Hi Phil, It is Celeste here. I have sent an email to your hotmail and NS accounts - i hope it reaches you. If you haven't got it - can you email from your present email address? Cheers, Celeste

  6. Hi Phil, just saw your mail and and the blog. Nice work. Wonder if that smog's worse than in parts of Delhi. You're welcome to come check;) Looking forward to more reports and pics.