Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 28, 2008
The clock is ticking, the athletes are arriving, and Beijing’s air isn’t getting any better. For years, Chinese officials have known that the greatest threat to a successful Olympics might not be protests about Tibet or Taiwan or democracy but rather smog engulfing the National Stadium on Opening Day. Still, the government, which has done such a great job getting the different venues ready in time, seems to have dropped the ball when it comes to getting the air ready, too. The city started a plan to reduce pollution last week by limiting the number of cars allowed on the roads. (License plates ending in odd numbers on one day, ending in even numbers on the other day.) So far that hasn’t done much. Reuters reported yesterday on the opening of the Olympic Village in the capital, an event obscured by the pollution that “shrouded [the compound] in pea-soup fog.”
How worried are Chinese officials? Even the state-controlled media aren’t burying the news. Today’s China Daily, the mouthpiece of the government, has a front-page story that departs from its usual upbeat reporting about how well the preparations have been going. The headline: “Emergency green plan for Games.” The paper went on to report that Beijing “has not experienced a ‘blue day,’ that is healthy air quality, in the past four days.” No wonder officials are now talking about draconian measures to keep 90% of Beijing’s cars off the roads.
Meanwhile, here in Hong Kong (home of the equestrian events, as Jackie Chan reminds us), today wasn’t a great day for people with lungs either. A typhoon is hitting Taiwan, and when typhoons are in the neighborhood, for some reason the winds in Hong Kong seem to die and the air gets disgusting. On the other hand, the skies had been gloriously blue for the past few weeks thanks to winds from the south blowing away all the soot from Guangdong. No doubt Beijing residents - not to mention athletes and IOC officials - would gladly take a day or two of Hong Kong typhoon air in exchange for their gray skies.