Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beijing Choking On Smog As Olympics Near

Taking a deep breath in Beijing is hazardous to your health. The explosion of economic growth of the Chinese economy has been fueled with fossil fuels and now the air of Beijing is paying the price.

As the Olympic Games near, the smog in the nation's capital is so bad Olympic venues are barely visible through the toxic haze. Emergency measures put in place to temporarily clear the air for the games have failed. The government is proposing that a full 90% of all automobiles (and Beijing as almost 3 million of them) be kept off the streets during the event.

Factories and construction sites also face possible shutdowns as Chinese authorities try to curb the runaway pollution. The environmental watchdog group Greenpeace reported yesterday that the level of small particles in the air is still twice as high in the city as the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization. The BBC reported that its own air-quality tests yesterday at the Olympic Village found the level of small particles was three times higher than the recommended level.

The result of this mess is that several athletes competing in endurance events have opted to skip the games rather than risk their health. The Canadian Team is staying in Singapore and flying in just for the events, then back to Singapore to protect the health of the athletes.

It's a sorry mess to stick the competitors in and more over it is a glaring example of what unregulated growth can bring about. A generation ago, Beijing's air was clear as thousands of bicycles crowded the streets. Today, blue sky is unheard of and respiratory diseases are claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents.

I am beginning to suspect that the economic challenges the US faces from China may be dwarfed by the pollution challenges China faces in it's own cities.

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