Giant on the move
A cleaner Beijing would be perfect Olympic legacy
For those of us who live in Beijing, the air during the Olympics has been a real treat. It smells sweet and breathes in nicely. Even better, I feel like I can see forever — buildings that are more than a mile away, even the purple outline of the Fragrant Hills to the west of the city.
There were a lot of worries about the Beijing smog expressed by athletes and foreign journalists before the Games began. But for the last week, there has been a lovely salmon tinge to the clouds — real clouds, not smog! — in the evenings.
All this is due to Beijing having booted well over a million cars off the streets, idled construction sites, and closed the worst polluting factories for hundreds of kilometers while requiring the not-quite-so-bad plants to install and actually use emissions reducing equipment.
The weather also helped. After a hot, muggy start to the Games when a heavy fog bank sat smack over the city, some rain and a breeze have cleared things out. The numbers of days where the air quality is rated excellent have soared.
Unfortunately, most of those measures are temporary, so our eyes and lungs may only be getting a short holiday while the Olympics and Paralympics are going on. You can live with normal Beijing air, in fact I trained for a marathon in it last year, but most people agree it’s a lot more pleasant this way.
Still, there could be some long-lasting benefit, now that people see what the air could be like. Beijing’s environmental officials have promised to step up monitoring of pollutants and continue imposing new measures to clean things up.
And in the grimy provincial towns that ring the capital, better industrial controls could also mean a better quality of life.
People like to talk about the “legacy” of Olympic Games. A cleaner Beijing would be a nice take-away from this year’s.
PHOTO: Competitors jump during the men’s quarterfinals run for the BMX cycling competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen