Posted on July 30, 2008 @ 02:59:00 PM by Paul Meagher
The air quality at the summer olympics in Beijing has been a concern of late as visibility was about a km yesterday. There is much to learn about China as a result of hosting the Olympics there but I doubt that they want it to be that their air quality sucks. Yet, if they can give the world, and the Chinese themselves, a better understanding of what a relatively affluent non-green future bodes, then I think that will be a much more important benefit from these summer olympics than how many medals each country won. A particular type of media consumer, the "sports media" consumer, might become more aware of air quality issues as a result of the need to continually address it's impact upon performance throughout the Beijing Olympics. This might be a good thing from a building awareness point of view although bloggers should probably assist in this awareness building rather than expecting traditional media to cover this "story" in the depth it deserves.
Apparently the air quality improved quite a bit today because of high winds and a rain. The high wind was especially important because it diffused pollutants into the general atmospheric circulation system where, given the relative sizes of the atmosphere over Beijing compared to the general atmosphere, the pollution problem has been "solved" for another day thanks to ecosystem services.
One of the steps China is taking to improve air quality is taking half of it's 3.3 million vehicles off the road during the olympics. Relative to the United States rate of 756 vehicles per 1000 people, the number of vehicles per person in Beijing province is less (popn. of 17.5 million people), although if they are only taking the "urban" cars off the road the ratio would be 3.3 million cars to 8.5 million urban residents (383 vehicles per 1000 people compared to an average of 10 vehicles per 1000 people in China generally). Beijing has the 4th highest density in the world with inner city areas being 60 times more densely populated than outlying areas.
While cars are being taken off the road, and speed limits reduced for those that remain, we need to still ask about the number of planes arriving at the airports to bring the media, the athletes, and the fans to this spectacle. Are we any further ahead in the amount of air pollution being created during the games? If we do the math, I doubt it. Even shutting down some factories and coal-powered power plants might not balance the equation either? On balance, it is hard to see the Olympic phenomenon as being green anymore in regards to its impart upon global air quality and the impacts required to get ready for the event even though all future venues will make themselves out to be an exemplar of green.