More on Beijing Air, and Your U.S. Tax Dollars at Work

The @BeijingAir feed on Twitter -- for now, the only known source of readings in China of the most damaging sort of air pollution -- is back in the "Unhealthy" range, from the "Hazardous" conditions of the past week or so. Just now:


It is worth noting, again, that this reading exists because of public funding from the U.S. government. Several reader responses on its implications.

From someone involved in America's satellite program:
What's particularly striking about air quality episodes in China is the sheer size of the area that can be affected.  One can only get an appreciation of this by looking at imagery from satellites. 

NASA's Earth Observatory web site often provides such imagery, such as the example below of this particular episode. [JF note: this would be like a satellite view of the US in which the entire Ohio or Mississippi river valley is socked in by a pollutant cloud.]

When looking at such imagery, you often see a huge area of haze sitting over the low level, eastern area of China and being blocked from moving further west by the more mountainous terrain in that area. 

The same thing occurs over India and surrounding countries, where smoke from biomass burning and haze from pollution back up against the Himalayas.  Here is one example:

It's amazing what one can see from Earth's orbit (yes, this is a shameless plug for the support of Earth Observation satellite measurements, something I am involved with and that is under severe pressure these days).
Another reader and aviation buff writes in, about similar publicly funded weather resources:
From our government ... new model maps that are REALLY cool. Hour-by-hour for dozens of paramenters, including flight rules, snowfall by hour, precip type ... just in time for October snow.

An example of something just not available publicly before: a map of the forecast "ceiling height" one of the most important factors in flight planning and flight safety:


And from the English version of Caijing magazine, warnings by Chinese officialdom "not to believe" environmental readings coming from foreign sources, and instead to trust whatever the Chinese government says. (The Chinese government, as a reminder, has refused even to measure the most damaging pollutants, PM 2.5, although it has announced that it might start doing so.) The story is interesting in its own right and also for the way the reporter seems to be mocking the government pronouncements. That is as an indication of the latitude that Chinese publications have been given, and have seized, to report on environmental problems.

Just to round this off, at a time when science in general and publicly funded science in particular are ever more important, the New Scientist magazine in England has a cover story on the "decline and fall" of science in America, and the positive rejoicing in American politics over anti-science stances. Article here and editorial here, registration required.

Our politics will converge with China's sooner than most people thought, and for a surprising reason (ie, "don't listen to those 'scientists' or 'experts,' listen to us.")
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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