And I simply do not have the heart to show what it looks like today -- August 8, the magical 08/08/08 chosen for its positive auspices for the Olympics. I'll just say, it looks very much like this view from six weeks ago. This is a disaster.

About six months ago, I interviewed the (impressive) Chinese scientists responsible for monitoring Beijing's air quality and later reported their views in the Atlantic:

The last PowerPoint slide in a presentation that one of the scientists showed me read, "We are confident that the air quality goals for Olympics 2008 will be met in Beijing." When I asked, "Really?" all eyes turned toward the senior CAS official in the room, a British-trained scientist. "I personally am sure the goals will be met," he said. Even if the winds are wrong? "Ninety-nine percent."

So either we're in the one-percent case, or they were fooling themselves. Or required to say what they did. It doesn't matter.

I suppose there's also a one-percent possibility that the international embarrassment will be a Chernobyl-type stimulus toward truly radical environmental action in China and around the world. But maybe that's fooling myself too.

Here we go.


We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.