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August, 2008:

Ecology: The Bridge At The Edge Of The World

Le-Min Lim – Updated on Aug 31, 2008 – SCMP

Written by: James Gustave Speth
Yale University Press, HK$224 ***1/2

When the Group of Eight pledged recently to slash emissions of greenhouse gases, they were pondering a question: just how serious are the threats to our environment?

The simple answer: dire, says James Gustave Speth in his disturbing book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing From Crisis to Sustainability.

A gentler diagnosis is plain wrong, says Speth, the dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Decades of government foot-dragging on climate policy and wanton abuses by companies and individuals have pushed our environment to disaster’s brink, he writes.

How bad is the damage? Here is one measure: if we continued to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, greenhouse gases would reach a concentration level so high it would make the world too hot to live in during the second half of the century. In other words, our children and grandchildren would reap the full wrath of our excesses, says Speth.

And Speth should know. He was an environmental adviser to US president Jimmy Carter and head of the United Nations’ international development agency.

The good news is: there is time yet, albeit very little, to avert the worst. Start by cutting emissions by more than 80 per cent of the current amount to cap the build-up at safe levels, he says, citing the 2006 Stern Report on climate change. Drastic? Yes, so close are we to the tipping point that “some strong medicine must be taken”.

The onus is on developed nations to take the lead in making things right, he says. G8 nations appeared to signal a willingness to do so, agreeing, at the least, to halve emissions by 2050. George W. Bush said developing nations also must share that commitment, prompting objections from countries such as China and India.

In the west, governments should stop coddling polluters, make environmental protection – not profit or growth – the priority, set clear goals and let the market adjust accordingly, Speth says. Specific persons in companies, not just faceless corporate entities, should be held accountable for violations.

“Government policies could be implemented to correct market failures [to set an appropriate price for scarce resources like clean air and water] and make the market work for the environment rather than against it,” he writes.

With candour, cadence and clarity, Speth presents a compelling case for prompt action, making this book a must-read on the subject. Protecting the environment needs not just an overhaul of institutions, but of values and mindsets.

Consider the pursuit of economic expansion. We should broaden the definition of growth and progress beyond dollars and cents. Speth says we must choose between two paths: one leading to destruction, the other to a bridge that would help us cross to safety.

Like an evangelist, Speth draws not just on facts, but anecdotes, quotations, even poetry to make his point. The book becomes treacly at times with New Age musings, though that doesn’t detract from its message. Encouraging shoppers to buy environmentally friendly goods is a way for our consumer-driven society to contribute to the cause.

The book is a desperate call for steps to mend the environment.

Will anyone listen?


Support For Tree Preservation

Eva Wu – SCMP – Updated on Aug 30, 2008

Almost all would-be lawmakers say they support legislation aimed at preserving trees in the city.

Five green groups – the Conservancy Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green Power and Greeners Action – initiated a “green charter” this month and sought the support of all Legislative Council election candidates.

Replies from 44 of the 46 individual candidates or party tickets supported a call for a law preserving trees in the city that would comprehensively detail how they would be protected.

On Wednesday, a tree – which experts said could have been diseased for some time – collapsed at Stanley Market and killed a young woman. The accident raised concerns about the health of trees throughout the city.

Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said there might be some obstacles to legislation on the issue.

“The government would have to commit much more resources to preserving trees,” he said. “Once a law was passed, the government would be required to remedy cases of neglect.”

The charter, which contains 11 demands covering issues ranging from air pollution to conservation policies, received a cool response from trades-related candidates and business-affiliated political parties.

Of the 59 candidates standing in the 30 functional constituencies, only 10 signed the charter. Some said they needed more time to study it and others rejected it outright. Liberal Party candidates refused to sign it.

Mr Li said the response was disappointing. “Trees are a public concern, as everyone can see after the accident. Their response reflects how much they support conservation policies despite what appears on their platforms,” he said, adding that many platforms failed to meet the charter’s basic demands.

Greenpeace’s Edward Chan Yue-fai said voters should scrutinise the stance of candidates on environmental affairs.

Experts Doubt The Clear Air Will Stay

Easy part of clean Beijing skies is over

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 30, 2008

Visitors to the Olympic Games may remember Beijing for the elaborate fireworks at the opening and closing ceremonies, but locals were more impressed by sunny, blue skies they have dreamed of for years.

But will the clearer air persist?

Ma Jun , head of the non-governmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the improvements illustrated that the problem was not beyond the control of the government.

“It may be easy to achieve desirable results with emergency measures and the people’s almost unconditional support for the Olympics,” he said. “But the real challenge now is how to ensure a healthy and liveable environment for millions of residents in the years to come.”

Ministry of Environmental Protection assessments officer Mu Guangfeng said most of the last-minute restrictions were unlikely to continue. “We have also come to realise how bad the city’s pollution problems are” that only such desperate attempts could make a change, Mr Mu said.

But pollution researcher Ma Yongliang , of Tsinghua University, said: “Given the general trend in pollution reduction in the past decade, there is no reason to doubt that the environment will continue to improve and we will have more blue skies in the future.”

However, his optimism was not shared.

Liang Xiaoyan , of the Beijing-based Friends of Nature, said the intense criticism and unprecedented media exposure of Beijing’s air pollution at the Olympics had for the first time given mainlanders some idea of how far China lagged behind other countries in air quality standards.

Many people who had never been abroad didn’t consider Beijing’s choking smog a problem. But because of the Olympics, they got to know the international standards on air quality and realised by themselves that China had a long way to go to improve its environment,” she said.

Zheng Yisheng , of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed. “Never before have Beijing residents been so concerned about the environment we live in and the quality of the air we are breathing,” he said.

Professor Wang Jin of Peking University echoed the sentiment, saying the Games may have served as a catalyst to raise environmental awareness. “While we are still breathing the Grade I air quality, considered good by national standards, will we be able to accept Grade III air again after the Olympics?” he asked.

Although the public has little direct influence on the government, the heightened awareness about the air quality would translate into a shift in policy and gradually real change, according to Professor Wang, who specialises in environmental law. “Raised public expectations as a result of the unusual clear skies could have a negative impact on authorities as the public and non-governmental groups will demand more action on cutting pollution,” he said.

But to reduce pollution takes money, and Ms Liang said the improvement in the capital’s environment proved nothing but the government’s unbridled, unmatchable spending power.

As long as authorities want, they are able to make anything happen at whatever the price,” she said. “We should ask how much it cost to close all those factories. Who is footing the steep bill, and is it fair for so many people in and around the capital to pay such a price?”

Ms Liang also noted that even though the temporary reduction in the number vehicles on the road had a noticeable effect on air quality, the government had yet to show it intended to discourage Beijingers from relying on private transportation. She also cautioned against a general perception that the authorities would take pollution as seriously after the Olympics as they did before the Games.

“I am not optimistic because I can’t see the same amount of motivation for authorities to tackle chronic environmental problems after the Olympics. The government may even consider lowering the already lax environmental standards to woo industries and make up for their Olympic losses,” she said.

For a government that too often lacks the motivation to make real changes, expressing rosy expectations may only lead to disappointment, environmentalists said.

Mr Ma Jun said the authorities should discuss the matter with businesses, NGOs and the public to work out a road map towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly future. “Don’t expect the sky will be always as blue as what we have now,” he said. “Whether the Games have a lasting legacy will largely depend on keeping up the good momentum.”

Alternatives To Bridge

So many more efficient, and deserving, alternatives to bridge

Updated on Aug 29, 2008 – SCMP

With reference to recent announcements regarding the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, when will the administration clarify its statement that travelling time to Macau and Zhuhai will be cut to 20 minutes?

It may take 20 minutes to some landing point west of Chek Lap Kok airport.

However, it takes at least another 40 minutes when traffic is light to get to downtown Kowloon from the airport and another 10 or more to reach areas of Hong Kong Island close to the Western Harbour Tunnel and even longer to get to eastern districts.

Even travelling by Airport Express requires 23 minutes to reach the airport and one would then have to walk some distance to take a bus across the bridge.

This means that with the exception of residents of Tung Chung, Tsing Yi and the northern New Territories, it would still be more convenient and less stressful for the majority of day trippers to take a ferry to Macau or Zhuhai.

In the case of Macau there is the added factor that some ferries now dock at Cotai while cars coming in from Macau would probably be held up near the bridge exit because the Macau road system is almost at saturation level in some areas.

This bridge, with no plans to include a rail link, requires detailed study as to the realistic volume of traffic it will command.

If the traffic is going to be mostly trucks from across the border bringing extra pollution onto our streets then environmental and health costs must also be factored in to the eventual costs of the project. The traditional shipping routes with strict regulations on emissions would have less negative impact.

We have our firemen battling No 5 fires with outdated radio equipment, ambulances breaking down regularly (“Another ambulance breaks down”, July 31) and hundreds of thousands still living in caged homes.

Against this, throwing billions of dollars into a possible white elephant trophy project is hardly a responsible move on the part of our government.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan

Hong Kong Skies Clear — Thanks to Nature, Not Games

By Aaron Pan and Wendy Leung – Bloomberg – Aug. 28

Tommy Chan, a street vendor in central Hong Kong, credits China’s drive to close factories across the country before the Olympics for the blue skies the city’s citizens have been enjoying.

“Maybe they shut down a few more this time for the Olympics because they wanted to give a good impression to the rest of the world,” said Chan, 65, who has been selling snacks on Queen’s Road for more than a decade.

He’s wrong. It’s not China, it’s nature.

The brown-tinged haze that typically obscures views in the city, which hosted the Olympic equestrian events, has been absent for the past two weeks due to seasonal wind and weather patterns, according to the Environmental Protection Department. The message: Olympics or no Olympics, foul air will return.

“Weather conditions in summer months favor dispersion of air pollutants,” said Felix Leung, a spokesman for the department. “With oceanic wind and good air dispersion, the current pollution levels are low.”

The Olympic Games ended Sunday with a closing ceremony in Beijing. In Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China since British rule ended in 1997, the period was marked by a month of the lowest average pollution levels downtown this year.

Hong Kong’s government identifies cutting smog as a priority because poor air quality is harming the city’s reputation as a tourist destination and damaging the health of the population, according to a policy document released last year.

`Not Safest Air’

The government’s air pollution index in the city’s Central and Western districts fell to as low as 11 on Aug. 19, according to the environment department’s Web site. Today it was at 24 as of 2:30 p.m. local time.

Above 100, people with heart or lung problems are advised to avoid exercising outdoors. The index had reached 150 in July and climbed to records in some parts of the territory, raising concerns about the welfare of horses in the Olympics.

“It’s better than it has been,” said Anthony Hedley, a professor in the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. “But it’s not necessarily the safest air we could have.”

Around 220 horses from 42 countries were involved in this month’s equestrian events at the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong. The government had previously released a statement saying record pollution levels were “no cause for alarm” for the horses.

Smog May Return

“It’s seasonal,” said Edward Chan, Greenpeace campaign manager in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong’s air pollution levels are usually lower in July and August. The emission of pollutants never reduced. They will reappear again from September.”

Officials in Beijing, Hong Kong and other Olympic venues intensified efforts to combat pollution before the Games as China sought to showcase its emerging economy. Beijing removed cars and closed factories in a bid to improve air quality.

It’s difficult to say whether the measures helped, Hedley said. “They’ve had some pretty dirty air in the early part of the Olympics.”

In China’s capital, the air quality was at its best level in 10 years this month, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

“One swallow doesn’t make a summer,” said Hedley. “I’ll personally be very, very surprised if we see any improvement in the near future” in China’s urban air quality. “The growth of road vehicles is a tremendous source of mobile pollution.”

Beijing had spent $17 billion cutting air pollution for the Olympics, removing more than half the cars from its roads, halting construction work, and shutting factories.

Health Link

Air pollution causes about 10,000 deaths yearly in southern China’s Pearl River Delta region, including Hong Kong and Macau, according to a study released in June by a research group and three universities.

Research group Civic Exchange says the link between Hong Kong’s air quality and public health needs to be acknowledged and acted upon. The group has published suggestions for action the government can take to cut the smog.

Hong Kong had the worst March in 30 years in terms of visibility because of bad weather and pollution.

CLP Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong’s biggest power supplier, has won environmental approval to build a liquefied natural gas receiving terminal to help meet emissions targets.

The company plans to use non-carbon sources, including renewables, nuclear and hydropower, for 20 percent of total generation capacity by 2020, according to Chief Executive Officer Andrew Brandler.

Meantime, government predictions suggest Hong Kong residents should enjoy the breather while it lasts. The forecast is that air quality will remain “good” in coming days, Leung said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Pan in Hong Kong at; Wendy Leung in Hong Kong at

Awareness Needed Of Incense Health Risks

Updated on Aug 27, 2008 – SCMP

Burning incense at home is a traditional way for many Chinese around the world to present offerings to the gods and show devotion to them. But a new medical study has shown that worshippers may be sacrificing far more than they realise – their health. The research, published in the medical journal Cancer, finds that people who are regularly exposed to indoor incense smoke have a greater chance of developing upper respiratory tract cancer. It is the most authoritive study to date, having tracked, for up to 12 years, more than 61,000 Singaporean Chinese who are engaged in the religious practice.

Common sense ought to indicate as much, given what we know about the health risks posed by second-hand cigarette smoke and air pollution. Nevertheless, the danger has not been widely exposed. The findings need to be publicised, especially in parts of the world where the burning rituals are common in many people’s homes. Two issues are involved: product safety and lack of awareness.

Homes in Hong Kong are on average smaller than those in Singapore, so a higher level of accumulated cancer-causing substances may be trapped indoors. It is not uncommon here for families with three generations to live in the same flat, so children are especially vulnerable. There was a time when many households had small shrines set up outside the door with incense offerings. But, in recent years, tougher fire safety regulations and better estate management have forced people to put the shrines inside their homes. It would be impractical to ask people to stop an age-old tradition, but health authorities should consider introducing advertisements or public announcements to warn people of the danger and educate them on the need for proper ventilation.

Meanwhile, manufacturers should be made to produce safer incense products. Past research has shown many types of incense give off benzene and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which can cause cancer. It ought to be possible to make safer incense that minimises or even eliminates these substances when burning. The religious practice, after all, seeks blessings from the gods for health and safety. It would be a shame to achieve the opposite.

Wall Of Resistance

As high-rises spring up around them, some residents are turning into activists to fight what they see as overdevelopment

Joyce Siu – SCMP – Updated on Aug 26, 2008

Candise Chan Yee-wah is an unlikely activist, but the relentless rise of Hong Kong’s concrete blocks turned the mild-mannered housewife from North Point into a campaigner. “You either suffer or speak up,” she says.

Chan’s transformation began when she learned of two proposed projects near her home: a pair of 41-storey residential blocks by Henderson Land Development and an even taller hotel next door by Cheung Kong (Holdings).

A neighbour had spotted application notices put up at the waterfront site and recruited Chan to help poll residents in their housing estate. Concerned that closely built high-rises would block sea breezes and natural light going to buildings in the area, they set up a coalition in April to oppose the developments.

“Most neighbours have day jobs so I help with the research and co-ordination work,” says Chan, a former bank executive.

Developers’ desire to extract a higher premium from flats and offices with views have led to oppressive rows of dense high-rises that turn the streets behind them into ovens.

But as awareness grows about the impact of such projects, several groups such as Chan’s have been formed to fight them.

Financial planner Russell Li Wai-yuen, who lives in a building opposite the North Point developments, says flats in his block have already become stuffier with the squat hotel block taking shape on King Wah Road.

“Conditions will get worse when the hotel opens because of the heat generated by its lights and air conditioners,” he says.

Residents also worry about the congestion that the hotel and residential towers will bring to the small lane. “How can a narrow, one-way road support so many coaches and taxis in the future?” Li says.

Such worries have spurred Li, Chan and other members of the Coalition Against Proposed Development on King Wah Road to spend the past few months collecting signatures, filing complaints and organising forums. “Construction has started on the hotel so we want to take action to oppose the residential high-rises before it’s too late,” says Chan. “This is our home. We have to protect the environment from further deterioration.”

She says the coalition is not opposed to new buildings, but to their height and density. “What we oppose is overdevelopment.

College student Bernard Tang Fai-cheong has experienced the deterioration it can bring. Conditions in his 15-storey building in Tai Kok Tsui have worsened because of the barrier formed by Metro Harbour View, a 10-block complex of 48-storey towers, he says.

Before the high-rises were built in 2003, there were breezes entering my flat. But now I feel like I’m living in an oven; I’m suffering because of the oppressive heat,” Tang says. He has had to keep the air conditioner on most of the day, nearly doubling his power bills.

A Green Sense study last month found, for instance, that the ambient temperature in Tsuen Wan town centre was three to four degrees Celsius higher than at the waterfront – a difference the environmental group attributed to wall developments blocking off breezes. While earlier wall complexes were clustered mostly in redeveloped districts or above MTR stations, they have now spread wider, especially to waterfront areas where flats and hotels with a view can fetch higher prices, Green Sense says.

The developments have turned apathetic professionals into dogged campaigners. The proposal to build a 54-storey apartment block on Seymour Road spurred actuary Yam Chi-fai and his neighbours to form the Mid-Levels West Concern Group. The Robinson Place resident says people are up in arms because they reckon the development will bring more pollution and choke already overloaded roads.

Air quality in our area has been worsening over the past decade; already there are fewer people jogging along Robinson Road because of the poor air,” Yam says. “[Our campaign] is about justice and exploitation. Hong Kong people spend most of their savings on their flats, yet our living environment is worsening. Why do we still have to face a wall and suffer from poor air after a hard day’s work?” he says.

Quarry Bay resident Bicky Li couldn’t agree more. Appalled by a developer’s application to raise the height of residential blocks at a Sai Wan Terrace site from the limit of 91 metres to 170 metres, she, too, rallied fellow residents to resist.

“It would be unfair to the existing residents if the height limit was relaxed,” Li says. “We bought flats here because it is pleasant. But if a taller building is constructed in front of our block, the air flow, sunlight and view corridors will be blocked.”

Chan’s community action has taught her a lot about how the government works.

“I wasn’t a socially conscious person before. I used to think town planning was the job of the government and had nothing to do with me,” she says. “But officials won’t know how their policies are affecting us unless we speak out.

Consulting experts and trawling through libraries and public documents, the activist housewives are teaching themselves how to preserve a liveable city.

“I read through the details, trying to figure out whether there are loopholes in the operation, but it’s a painstaking process. I had no experience at all. There are many technical terms that lay people find difficult to understand,” says Chan, whose handbag is now often stuffed with town planning literature.

In recent months, she has had less time to spend with her family and prepare their meals but says her husband shares her concern and helps look after their 10-year-old son when she’s busy campaigning.

Activists such as Li and Chan criticise the Town Planning Board for not doing enough to safeguard public interest and to ensure that new building projects don’t ignore rules.

“We’re disappointed,” Chan says, accusing the board of failing to ensure that developers submit the ventilation assessments on King Wah Road that they had agreed to in 2006. “Isn’t it the job of the government to scrutinise the developer? The government should serve as the gatekeeper protecting the people’s interests. But why are there so many loopholes?”

Residents should take the initiative to monitor the government, Chan says.

“You can’t always trust what politicians say; you have to learn to verify the information.”

Edward Ng Yan-yung, an architecture professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says restrictions on building heights in relation to the size of nearby streets and distances between structures were removed in the 1990s, resulting in the construction of densely packed, hyper-tall structures.

“Right now I don’t see the regulations managing to strike a balance between building heights and their surrounding environment,” Ng says.

Neighbourhood campaigns have now brought together several groups on Hong Kong Island under the Community Alliance for Urban Planning. Among the more established ones are the Kennedy Road Protection Group, which was formed to fight the proposed Mega Tower in Wan Chai, and the Central and Western Concern Group, which campaigns for balanced, sustainable development. But several are relatively new, including Chan’s coalition and the Mid-Level West and Sai Wan Terrace concern groups.

“We now know we’re not alone,” Chan says. “But we find the bitter reality is the government’s town planning isn’t living up to our hopes for a better living environment.”

Alliance spokeswoman Katty Law Ngar-ning says members realise they face a long-term battle against Hong Kong’s skewed development, but hope the situation will improve as people demand better quality of life.

The Central and Western Concern Group’s success three years ago in blocking the construction of two 30-storey residential blocks at the historic Police Married Quarters site on Hollywood Road shows community action can have an effect, she says.

Law has since met many people who share her concerns. “Most don’t know what avenues are available to express their opinions or are too busy to read tomes of documents,” says Law, another housewife-turned-activist. “But if a few people like us can serve as facilitators to conduct research, summarise and present findings to them, many are eager to get involved.”

They have a simple wish, she says. “We want a better living environment. We want to call a halt to overdevelopment.”

Beijing Must Stay Green

Updated on Aug 26, 2008 – SCMP

Now that the Beijing 2008 Olympics is over, it is the right time for us to think about the legacy and how we can make that legacy an integral part of our everyday lives.

Beijing has spent a considerable sum to deal with its chronic pollution and create a cleaner and greener Beijing. This included renovating old buildings, planting trees and laying down more grass.

These measures were quite successful: many Beijing residents said the air had improved.

In order to maintain a clean, green and beautiful Beijing after the Olympic Games, Beijing must persist with these green measures.

The authorities must continue to tackle air pollution by strictly regulating vehicle emissions and promote green production among industries. Beijing businesses and residents should continue with environmentally friendly habits.

We can look back at what has been a high-quality Olympic Games.

I also hope we can look forward and continue to see a cleaner, greener city being developed in a sustainable manner.

Katherine Chan, Tsing Yi

Blue Skies for Beijing

Blue Skies for Beijing Need Marathon Plan That May Slow Economy

By Lee Spears

Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) — Zhang Guoqing says the air quality in Beijing is better since the government clamped down on tailpipes, smokestacks and construction cranes for the Olympics.

“The traffic condition became less crowded and the air quality also improved,” Zhang, 58, said while watching ice skaters at the China World Trade Center. “I don’t want the government to stop those measures.”

Beijing officials say the city experienced its best air quality in 10 years this month after authorities implemented odd- even driving days and shut down factories and building sites before the Aug. 8-24 games. More than half of 2,000 Beijingers surveyed said traffic control measures should continue after the games, state-run China Daily reported.

Yet they won’t get their wish. The world’s most populous nation needs to create 10 million new jobs a year to maintain economic growth and social stability, so business will return closer to usual once the upcoming Paralympics end Sept. 17.

“These temporary measures are meant to address the issue temporarily,” said Tao Dong, chief Asia economist at Credit Suisse Group AG in Hong Kong. “You can’t prohibit people from driving their cars. You’re going to have a riot.”

Slow Growth

China, the world’s No. 4 economy, may have lost as much as 3 percent of its estimated 4 trillion-yuan ($585.3 billion) gross domestic product by shutting down factories in Beijing and surrounding areas for two months, Tao said. Some factories, including Beijing Shougang Co., the nation’s fourth-biggest steelmaker, were evicted from the capital.

The affected regions generate about 26 percent of China’s economic output, so the world’s fastest-growing major economy will slow during the next two months, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in an Aug. 8 report.

GDP growth has slowed for four straight quarters, prompting President Hu Jintao to say Aug. 1 that his priorities were maintaining steady, fast growth and controlling inflation.

There was such concern about Beijing’s air quality that International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said some outdoor events could be postponed if necessary. World-record holder Haile Gebrselassie, an asthmatic, pulled out of the marathon because of the pollution and heat.

The city spent about $70 billion to improve air quality and build subways, sports stadiums and an airport terminal for the games. Chinese officials say the measures worked.

`Itchy Palms’

The average daily pollution index this month was about 31 percent lower than August 2007, the city’s environmental protection bureau said Saturday. Major air pollutants were an average 40 percent lower, with nitrogen oxide emissions from automobiles down 61 percent, the bureau said.

Even Gebrselassie said he noticed the change.

“I was here in February, I don’t see no blue sky,” he said. “To keep such clear air, that’s fantastic.”

Still, levels of particulates known as PM10 were up to double the World Health Organization’s recommended levels on some days. China’s pollution index doesn’t measure smaller particles called PM2.5, which can penetrate deeper into lungs and create greater risk for developing asthma and bronchitis.

Several riders in the 245-kilometer (152.2-mile) bicycle road race on Aug. 9 said they were affected by poor air quality.

“First few days when we went out, I was coughing a lot after,” said American George Hincapie, who finished 40th.

Even the archers suffered.

“I didn’t like the pollution,” bronze medalist Yun Ok-Hee of South Korea said. “My palms and hands were itchy.”

More Emissions

China’s release of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming is increasing more than previously forecast and will swamp pollution cuts planned by the U.K., Germany and other industrialized nations, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in May. It surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter.

Air pollution-related illnesses and deaths may cost China an additional 3.8 percent of GDP, a World Bank report said. Beijing’s 15 million residents face higher incidences of asthma, respiratory infections and lung cancer, said Hans Troedsson, WHO’s representative in China.

“The government is taking measures in the right direction, but it needs to be scaled up,” Troedsson said.

For the games, the government said cars with license plates ending in odd numbers could drive only on odd-numbered days, and vice versa for even numbers. Beijing has about 3.3 million cars and adds about 300,000 a year.

Controls Continue

City officials said Saturday that normal traffic patterns would return next month.

“They should at least try to continue some of these measures,” said Ricardo Browne, 41, a Brazilian pilot working for Shenzhen Airlines Co. “It’s hard to see the sun.”

Steps are being taken. China will restrict factory discharges and may not let some polluters reopen, and last month it imposed cleaner fuel standards to reduce auto emissions. The government will double the tax on large vehicles to spur demand for more fuel-efficient cars.

“They are meaning business in terms of structural changes that will positively influence the climate and the environment,” Rogge said yesterday.

Beijing editor Zhou Min, 27, said she, like Zhang, wanted the driving restrictions to continue, even though it meant more crowded buses and subways.

I fully support the environment-friendly measures since the air quality has been improved, which puts me in a good mood,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lee Spears in Beijing at
Last Updated: August 24, 2008 17:01 EDT

Ship Pollution In Ports On Rise, Says Researchers

The Economic Times – 25 Aug, 2008, 0000 hrs IST, AGENCIES

Dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and while running engines in port in order to generate electricity affects the air quality of coastal cities like Houston, according to researchers belonging to University of California. Scientists from the University of California at San Diego report that the impact of dirty smoke from ships burning high-sulfur fuel can be substantial, on some days accounting for nearly one-half of the fine, sulfur-rich particulate matter in the air known to be hazardous to human health.

Until now, air quality experts have been unable to quantify the specific contribution of ship smoke to the air pollution of coastal cities.

“Ships are really unregulated when it comes to air pollution standards. What we found was a surprise, because no one expected that the contribution from ships of solid sulfur-rich particles called primary sulfate would be so high,” said Mark Thiemens, dean of the division of physical sciences and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university at San Diego.

Primary sulfate, or SO4, is produced when ships burn a cheap, sulfur-rich fuel called “bunker oil.” Although more sulphur is typically found in other particles produced by ships, SO4 particulates are particularly harmful to humans because they are especially fine microscopic particles that can remain in the lungs. The tiny particles can also travel long distances.

The scientists developed a chemical fingerprinting technique that distinguished ship smoke primary sulfate from the tailpipe emissions of trucks, cars and other sources.

These techniques should help regulators in other states and countries monitor the impact of ships off their coasts as new restrictions on bunker oil burning by ships are implemented, the researchers said. International rules requiring clean-burning ship fuels are set to take effect in 2015.

“Because a large part of the world’s population live in major cities with shipping ports – such as Houston, New York City, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore – and global shipping is expected to increase in the decades to come, this should help policy makers around the world make more informed decisions about improving the health of their citizens,” Mr Thiemens said.