Now 377 days to the Olympics

To the obvious question -- how could you possibly have a major athletic competition in conditions like these?? -- there are four main answers from people in Beijing:

(Central Business District, Beijing, 3pm, July 27, 2007 )

1) The air is better than it used to be.

2) It's mainly construction dust, and since the pre-Olympic building boom is nearly over, the dust will settle down by time the games begin.

3) The government will do whatever it takes -- closing factories, banning cars -- to make the air acceptable a year from now, and it is within this government's power to make that happen. Indeed a trial, temporary ban of a million-plus cars is scheduled for next month, to see how much difference it makes.

4) It's actually worse than you think, because the Beijing government allows 1,000 new cars onto the road every day -- unlike Shanghai, which strictly limits the number of new license plates it offers (and auctions them off to the highest bidders, which is another story).

To these the responses are:

1) Wow!

2) I hope so -- we'll see.

3) I hope so -- we'll see.

4) Wow! but in a bad way.

Let me clarify to Chinese readers that none of this is meant as a put-down of the country or mockery of the Olympics. I hope these Games are a big success, and expect that they will be, mainly for reason #3 above. But time is a-wastin'.

Additional topic for later discussion: China's pollution is mainly China's problem, but through its effects it is becoming everyone else's problem too. And in the factory-land of southern China, much of the pollution is in part the outside world's fault. In addition to outsourcing the factory jobs, America and other countries have outsourced factory smokestacks and toxic waste.

This is not so true in Beijing, where the problems are mainly China's own cars and construction projects. The picture below, from today, suggests what construction in the heart of Beijing looks like. Good luck bringing this under control.

And one more, looking similar but about a mile away, just for effect.

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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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