Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

July 23rd, 2008:

China’s Far From Smug About Smog

Mercury – Donna MacFarlane – July 23, 2008 12:00am

CHINA is ready for the Olympics, but it is not being smug about it writes Donna MacFarlane.
The 31 Olympic venues were finished months ago — at a cost of more than $US40 billion. But in the final two weeks before the world shines its spotlight on Beijing, the city is doing its best to look pretty.

Choking air pollution has been widely discussed in the lead up to these Games — although it has been suggested that it became such a big issue because the usual dramas of construction works lagging behind schedule were missing.

It is a big task, but the Chinese are on a mission to clear the skies. The plan includes closing dozens of cement factories, steel mills and heavy industry in Beijing and surrounding provinces.

The biggest polluters are cars — the city is home to about 3.3 million, and they are being targeted in a fashion similar to our own drastic water restrictions to combat the dry summer months.

Starting from this week, the rules state that cars with odd and even numbered licence plates can only be driven on alternate days. It’s only temporary, things will go back to normal in a couple of months, but in the meantime, getting around could be very interesting for local commuters.

Three new subway lines have just been opened to cope with the massive influx of public transport passengers.

Authorities expect people to take the new rules seriously. On their first day in force, when only even-numbered plates were allowed on the roads, police on motorbikes were apparently placed at key intersections to inspect traffic. From the footage I have seen of the pollution, they might have struggled to read the number plates from any distance.

If you get caught driving on the wrong day, there is a fine of about $14. It is thought that is sufficient to deter people from starting their engines against the rules.

From the local perspective, the biggest winners have got to be the taxi drivers. The rules do not apply to them, and they have the opportunity to make a lot more money, while driving in considerably better conditions.

I must admit, I am not too worried about the pollution in Beijing. I raced there on the road years ago, and I did not think it was too bad. The humidity is the factor that will have the most impact. In any case, it is the same for everyone and I will have one week in Hong Kong beforehand to get used to it.