End of an era: last pre-Olympic snapshot (updated)

By James Fallows

Opening ceremonies tomorrow, August 8. This is the view as of 10am, August 7, from our same old window in the Guomao area of Beijing. I suspect that a lot of this actually is "mist," very high humidity, etc. That is, it can't be that much more polluted than it was 36 hours ago, when things looked much better, as shown here. Mainly completing the chronicle, for the record.

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_4847.jpg


Here is the way the same area looked on a nice day about six months ago. I understand that if I'd been here this previous weekend, I could have seen even clearer views.

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_4315.jpg

Three more views of pretty blue-sky Beijing days in the same general neighborhood are: from early this year here and from late last fall here and here. Ongoing air coverage available on the Asia Society's interactive site, here. Now I will give the window-camera a rest.

UPDATE: For those interested in the actual science of the Beijing air-quality situation, I also highly recommend the ongoing charts and explanations on Dr. Kenneth Rahn's site, from the University of Rhode Island.

This one-page Power Point slide, updated daily, shows the trend in pollution readings in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. (Warning: it is legible only if viewed in Internet Explorer, not FIrefox or Safari. Don't even bother without IE.)

This longer presentation  explains the readings, including why Beijing's situation is so tough and how much difference the emergency shutdown order for cars and factories actually made. Its trend lines also clarify this important point: while hazy skies don't necessarily mean polluted air, as Chinese officials ceaselessly point out (it could be fog, it could be mist), in harsh reality the days when you can't see very well are also the days with the most dangerous air. (Thanks to Robert Kawaratani.)
 
 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2008/08/end-of-an-era-last-pre-olympic-snapshot-updated/8649/