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:
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.