Archive for the ‘Air pollution’ Category

Beijing Air Pollution

Beijing Air Pollution

As the Olympic countdown reaches hours rather than days before kick-off, speculation about the weather condition become less abstract – will the pollution clear? – and more real – has it or not? However even now the issue of air pollution is a little hazy (apologies); conflicting stories seem and contrasting conditions seem to be stirring up debate.

Until this weekend, most reports were that pollution was not clearing – though officials blamed the smog on climatic conditions rather than industrial emmissions. China beat explains the situation well:

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.

The rain making mentioned was discussed by Bob earlier this year.

Tim Johnson summarises the conflicting media stories well by highlighting an NYT article about US cyclists with specially-made face masks and a China Daily article which appears to claim that the pollution will not impact the athletes. Well worth a read!

Then, however the smog returned with a vengence, suggesting that while the officials were correct in a way – the climatic factors do play an important part – the general level ofpollution is such that only on exceptionally good days is it relieved.

Johnson also mentions that his Beijing bureau are now publishing a daily photo (see above) of the view from their balcony and linking to to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s website to the daily Beijing air pollution index on their Olympics home page. Great idea, though how realiable the official statistics are Bob would hate to speculate…


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Paula Radcliffe has been focussing on very little this year apart from the Beijing Olympics, particularly since missing the London Marathon with a toe injury. But now it appears that another injury may rule out her chances in China too. On Wednesday an MRI scan revealed a stress fracture in her left femur.

Paula Radcliffe with Olympic TorchRadcliffe’s chances of running in Beijing seem unclear; at one time she says she is 90-100% sure she will be there, while commentators like BBC’s Mike Costello have described these chances as ‘slim’. A case of positive mental attitude on Radcliffe’s part perhaps, but it doesn’t sound likely that she will be able to train enough to be going to the Olympics with a realistic shot of a medal.

On a personal level this is very sad news, not only was Paula Radcliffe one of Team GB’s best gold medal prospects on the track, but after the drama of the Athens Games there can be few people in the UK who did not wish her success in Beijing. It may be too early to say, but it looks like Paula Radcliffe may be joining Haile Gabreselassie on the marathon sidelines.

The Games’ organisers may also feel some sympathy for Paula, for not only was she a star-prospect for their event, but she has also been a vocal supporter of the Games, with regard to political protests and pollution.

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Some good news for the IOC and BOGOC this week came like a breath of fresh air after the torment of the torch relay; an athlete announced that pollution in Beijing will not be a big problem. Not just any athlete either, but marathon world record holder, and London Olympic torch bearer, Paula Radcliffe.

Paula Radcliffe with Olympic Torch

via the Metro:

“Paula Radcliffe believes pollution in Beijing will not be as big a problem as heat and humidity during the Olympic marathon.

The women’s marathon world record holder, who suffers from asthma, believes the air quality in the Chinese capital will not be the main concern for athletes.

‘It might not even be as bad as everyone thinks because I’m sure the Chinese will do everything they can to reduce the problem,’ said Radcliffe.”

This comes after male marathon world record holder Haile Gabrselassie pulled out of the Olympic marathon because of the threat to his asthma, and is exactly the kind of endorsement the Olympics needed right now.

Also interesting to note that Paula has been speaking out in defence of the Olympics and in criticism of the protesters at the torch relay on the BBC:

“A peaceful protest on the sidelines – fine. But don’t try to stop the torch, because the torch is about more than the Beijing Olympics. It’s about the Olympic spirit and the importance of the Olympics in teaching youth, and teaching the world, what sport can do – how sport can bring people together, how it can overcome suffering, how it has overcome even wars in the past.”

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The marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie will not compete in this event at the Beijing Olympics, because he fears the impact of Beijing air pollution on his health. The 34-year-old, widely regarded as the best distance runner of all time, suffers from asthma:

Haile Gabrselassie pulls out of the Beijing marathon

“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42km in my current condition”.

Pollution, particularly air pollution, has been a high profile topic leading up to the Beijing Games with threats that athletes will boycott the Olympics altogether, and suggestions that they should train by running behind a bus.

However in this case it is not such an indictment of the Beijing environment; Gabrselassie opted out of the London marathon last year for the same reason, and is not missing out on all of the events in Beijing:

“But I’m not pulling out of the Olympic event in Beijing all together. I plan to participate in the 10,000m event.

The loss in sporting terms of Gabrselassie’s withdrawal is huge; he is not only the world record holder, but in January this year he ran the Dubai marathon in 2:04:53 – the second fastest time ever. Though he holds two Olympic golds (both in the 10,000m) there is no doubt that his participation in the 2008 Olympic marathon would have been an historic occasion.

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Beijing International Airport unveiled it’s new terminal (terminal 3) this weekend. This is yet another huge piece of architecture built in time for the Olympic Games this summer. But this is not just any airport terminal (as BBC’s James Reynolds notes):

It’s more like a small country than an airport terminal.

“Its architects, Foster and Partners, describe it as the biggest building in the world, and it is larger than all the terminals of London’s Heathrow airport put together.”

The story of this new super-structure is covered extremely well by the CDT, with links to some excellent articles. The low-down being:

This final point has caught the attention of the British media particularly, as it contrasts fantastically with the new terminal (terminal 5) at London’ Heathrow. Terminal 5 is due to be unveiled next month, it is designed by the same architect – Lord Foster – and yet it has taken 20 years to build and has cost twice as much as Beijing’s terminal 3.

The reasons seem to be two fold:

1. The Chinese work force – nuff said

2. Public planning enquiries – The enquiry for Heathrow’s terminal 5 took longer than the entire construction of ‘the dragon terminal’

“Most airport projects take a decade or more to complete and usually involve lengthy reviews, detailed assessments, planning committees, public hearings and environmental impact statements…” but not so in China it seems. The pro’s and con’s of this system are clear, and an illustrative fact mentioned by James Reynolds:

the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, says that 1.25 million people have been moved from their homes to make way for construction.”

This is a particularly relevant discussion in a week when protestors against Heathrow’s expansion have grabbed the British headlines by finding their way onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament.

For an eloquent discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the Chinese attitude to construction see Hamish McRae’s article in the Independent:

“It would be extremely arrogant of us not to note what China is doing, both to set in context our own economic debates and also to try to see what we can learn from Chinese experience”.

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News reports this week about the Olympics have been dominated by the publication of the plan to keep half of Beijing’s cars off the road for the duration of the Games this summer. The objectives being to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

The NYT has picked up on this with an interesting interview with ‘the lead exercise physiologist for the United States Olympic Committee, Randy Wilber’. This is accompanied by a particularly interesting supplement which describes the influences on Beijing’s summer climate, as well as the possible effects poor quality air can have on athletes.

There is significant doubt over the possible success of the BOGOC’s plans to cut air pollution, as expressed separately by the NYT. This perhaps is not surprising, after the mixed results of the test carried out last August; “More than a million cars were taken off the roads for the four-day test period, but there was no improvement in the air quality, according to city officials” said the Guardian.

The test certainly reduced Beijing’s much maligned traffic, but impacts on the air quality were less clear. From the Guardian again; “The city’s Olympic organisers declared the test, which ends today, a success. Because there was no wind, they argued, pollution would have grown thicker without the special restrictions.”

Well, this August 1.65 million cars will be taken off the roads in Beijings. Should these measures herald blue skies; should the wild not lend a helping hand; Jacques Rouge, IOC President, has famously raised the possibility of events in “endurance sports like cycling” being postponed.

NYT raises this possibility with Randy Wilber, who is investigating rules over use of asthma inhalers, and even considering use of face masks. With tongue in check, the question is even posed about how athletes should prepare for the Games:

“Should I run behind a bus and breathe in the exhaust? Should I train on the highway during rush hour? Is there any way to acclimate myself to pollution?”

A little over the top perhaps?

The idea of athletes boycotting the Olympics because of the air quality is very sad, and is probably one that appeals to the Western media as an opportunity to show unusual concern with regard to the environment. Though the quality of the air during the Games is a very real concern, it seems unlikely that any athletes would jeopardise their Olympic dreams by staying away. The measures in place, are certainly not permanent solutions to Beijing’s problems, but it would be surprising if they did not fulfill their immediate objectives.

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Two articles appeared today that in their conflicting messages seem to epitomise the environmental situation in Beijing leading up the the ‘Green Games‘.

Beijing Residents in Environmental Protection‘ reads the headline of an article containing the results of a survey overseen by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). “The results showed that Beijing had the most active participation in environmental protection”, which is surely a positive reflection of the impact of the Olympics on the capital’s residents and theirway of thinking.

Meanwhile in the Wall Street Journal today (picked up by TIME) Steven Q. Andrews an experience environmental lobbiest writes from Beijing about the deterioration of the city’s air quality.

“In 2006, of the 84 major cities in China reported by the State Environmental Protection Agency, Beijing had the fewest number of days attaining the national air quality standard — and in 2007, the air quality was even worse.”

In Andrews’ words, this “raises serious questions about Beijing’s commitment to a green Olympics.”

All this on a day when the Chinese press is full of news about new legislation banning ultra-thin plastic bags, and imposing a charge for all plastic bags in shops.

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