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July 27th, 2008:

The Smog Remains the Same

Rocky Mountain News – July 27, 2008 8:56 AM

Measuring air quality in something called “blue sky days” is a bit strange, kind of like how the U.S. government used to measure nuclear radiation in “sunshine units.” Something’s getting lost in the translation. But still, blue sky — meaning any day with acceptable air quality — is the benchmark that the United Nations uses to keep track of the air in cities around the world. The good news for these Olympics, if you believe the latest numbers: between July 1 and 25, there were 22 blue sky days in Beijing.

The bad news: there’s absolutely no way that those numbers are accurate.

Now, I only arrived July 2, but according to my track, I’ve only seen a blue sky five times since. Two of those days are what American meteorologists would call “partially cloudy.” By my count, there have only been three truly sunny days — days where the smog hasn’t been overwhelming, which is what the UN is really referring to with the term “blue sky” — here in Beijing. I saw more of the sun in four days in Hong Kong than I have in my entire stay in Beijing combined.

And another thing: the smog’s not going away. Beijing says that pollution is down 20 percent since the city cut the number of cars on the road by half, but the smog is as bad as it’s been all month. The photo at top right is the view of the skyline here in Northwest Beijing, about 15 minutes from the Bird’s Nest. Those buildings are less than a mile away from where I was standing when I took the photo. The photo was taken at about 6 p.m. today, a few hours before sundown.

It’s tough to exaggerate this: if the pollution does not clear away within the next two weeks, the smog will be the big story of these Olympic Games. It’s that hard to breathe in the city right now.

Trust Us, Say Environmental Officials, Not Your Own Eyes

Chow Chung-yan – Updated on Jul 27, 2008 – SCMP

Don’t trust your own eyes, trust us, say environmental officials in Beijing.

An official yesterday insisted that Beijing’s air quality was “on good or moderate levels” and said the recent haze hovering over the capital was not due to pollution.

“Good air quality does not necessarily mean blue sky,” said Du Shaozhong , deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. “We should judge whether there is pollution by scientific statistics, not by what our eyes can see.

“You might not be able to see things in a [steamy] bathroom, but you would not [conclude that it’s due to] pollution,” Dr Du said.

Hours after his remarks, an air-pollution reading of 47 major cities released by Xinhua classified the air quality in the Olympic host city as Category III 1 – which is considered harmful to people’s health.

In fact, Beijing was one of the only two cities on the list whose air quality was classified as Category III 1 – the other was Ningbo .

All other major mainland cities had better readings.

It was the third day in a row that the air-pollution reading in Beijing was in the III 1 category, which is defined as having the potential to affect people with respiratory problems severely and making breathing difficult for most other people.

Beijing has been closing factories and taking cars off the road to improve the air quality as the opening of the Olympic Games is less than two weeks away. Many foreign athletes and trainers have expressed concerns over the pollution problem.

Shougang Group, one of the country’s biggest steelmakers, and several coking plants have been moved from the Olympic host city, where construction sites have also been ordered to suspend work.

More than 3 million cars have been forced since July 20 to run on alternating days based on even or odd numbers on their licence plates, a move expected to reduce about 60 per cent of car emissions.

Dr Du again pledged that the government would do what it took to ensure good air quality during the Games.

“Keeping an [acceptable quality of air] for the Olympic Games is a promise made by the Chinese government, and we will honour our commitment,” he said.

He discouraged people from wearing masks, saying it was “absolutely unnecessary”.

President Hu Jintao said that “more meticulous efforts” were needed for the success of the Beijing Olympics, Xinhua reported.

Speaking at a meeting of the Politburo, Mr Hu said hosting a successful Olympics was now the country’s “top priority”.

He ordered officials to spare no efforts to ensure the event was a success.

Earthwalker Still On Road To Beijing

Earthwalker still on road to Beijing, despite rough patch

Dan Kadison – SCMP – Updated on Jul 27, 2008

It is not easy being green. Paul “Earthwalker” Coleman is “back on the road again” – but a friend is concerned for the British adventurer, who is trekking across China to draw attention to the environment before the Olympic Games.

Tony Henderson, the chairman of the Humanist Association of Hong Kong, a local advocacy and empowerment group, spoke to the Sunday Morning Post after receiving a troubling e-mail from Coleman earlier last week.

Mr Henderson said Coleman, his wife and a couple of fellow walkers had travelled through a rough stretch of land, where they encountered pollution, hassles and suspicion on their way to Beijing.

Even though Mr Henderson received a more upbeat e-mail from Coleman hours later and a positive phone call on Wednesday, he is still worried.

“Although we didn’t talk about it, I feel very clear that it’s better for some news about his predicament to get in the press,” said Mr Henderson, who became pals with Coleman before he set off on his travels in September.

On Monday, the Earthwalker sent Mr Henderson a message from Shandong province , saying he had received a special 10-day visa and was “back on the road again” travelling to Tianjin , near Beijing.

But in an earlier e-mail, Coleman wrote about pollution he saw before his group headed to a Nanpi county hotel. He described his fears of his visa expiring. And he offered his thoughts on locals looking out for terrorists, “foreign or otherwise”.

Yesterday, Mr Henderson sent the Post a more detailed report from Coleman that covered 10 straight days of travelling.

Coleman wrote that his account included: “Being kicked out of a hotel. Police harassment. Visa struggles. Extreme pollution. A road accident. Tree planting. Chinese action-minded people. Cover-ups. And the support of local people.”

The Post spoke to Coleman, 53, yesterday afternoon.

“This last month has been extremely stressful because it seems like there are all sorts of hurdles being thrown up at the last minute,” he said in Hebei province .

“I said to my wife it was easier walking through Africa, and I had malaria in Africa and walked through lion territory,” he said.

The Earthwalker and his wife, Konomi Kikuchi, left from Hong Kong for a 3,300km journey to Beijing in time for the Olympics.

The couple walked across the mainland, South Korea and Japan in 2006, and were invited back by Beijing’s Olympic Committee.

Coleman made the news last month when he came to Hong Kong to pick up an award, and was then unable to return to the mainland because of visa issues.

Mr Henderson said Coleman lost at least two weeks before being allowed in on a tourist visa.

The Earthwalker estimated that he had hiked more than 3,000km, and was 120km from Tianjin.

Coleman said he was fatigued from walking in the hot sun, witnessing so much pollution and dealing with various unforeseen difficulties.

“It’s absolutely imperative for China to solve its environmental problems,” he said.

Travails on the trail to Tianjin

July 13 Leaving Linyi we came across a canal so polluted it looks like thinned-down black enamel paint. It gave off an extremely foul, chemical odour … A young man of about 20 came over. “Five or six years ago I used to swim in this river,” he said. “And we ate crayfish and fish from it.” I commented that it looked like oil. “It is oil. It’s coming from a nearby petroleum company.”

July 16, on Shandong-Hebei border We encountered the foulest air of our trip through China, and that’s saying something.

July 17 A worker at the visa department of the Cangzhou Public Security Bureau says: “`We cannot give you a visa here. You must go to Dezhou , in Shandong .” That’s 120km back.

July 18 Dezhou Public Security Bureau official says the only person who can put a visa in my passport is away till the end of next week.

July 21, Jinan Finally, I got the visa; a special one, they said. It would only last 10 days, but it would be enough to last until our arrival in Tianjin .

July 22 We can restart our walk, but first we have to take a taxi back to Cangzhou, which is on our walking route … A few kilometres down the road a motor bike appears out of nowhere. The driver slams on the brakes … Bang! The guy disappears. We get out. He’s lying jammed between the car and a guard rail … His leg is broken. Eventually a police car comes along. He looks, but does not stop. “Why is he not stopping?” I ask. “He’s not traffic police,” is the reply.

As told to Dan Kadison