Blue Skies – an Olympic Smoke-screen
The most common conversation I’ve run into over the past week: What’s with the amazing weather?
Although Beijing has been having one of the most polluted summers in years, on August eighth, a perhaps-not-so-coincidental year to the day before the Olympics, the sky went bright blue and has stayed that way ever since. So far, the Beijing Weather Manipulation Office has no comment, so I’ve been trying to think through the many variables and I can’t figure out an answer.
Beijing announced that they will force half the cars of the road between the seventeenth and twentieth of this month, alternating driving restrictions between license plates with odd and even numbers – indicating that this weekend will be even bluer, but not explaining the previous week. Beijing also moved several large polluting factories out of the region. However, these factories closed up months ago and the city has remained polluted. So again, this doesn’t explain the weather change. In terms of weather modification (i.e. controlling the rain), there has been regular rain in the middle of the night over the past week, said to clear out dust and smog. Once again however, this is just business as usual in Beijing; the weather modification office makes it rain quite often during the summers, but they don’t achieve day after day of perfect weather in the aftermath, as has been the case.
This leaves another theory that I’ve heard tossed around – forcing farmers not to burn their crops. In northern China, slash-and-burn farming is still a quite common practice and is responsible for blowing thick smoke hundreds of miles east over Beijing’s skies. I have been told that this is done frequently during the summers. Perhaps the government stopped allowing farmers to burn their crops during the test events this month? If this is the case, I haven’t heard any confirmation in any media outlet, but it would be an interesting piece of news in that it would require the cooperation of thousands of farms and impressive regulatory control on the local level.
Perhaps the good weather is coincidental. But if the government is able to make the sky blue – as it claims it will next year – it begs the question: why are they only making blue skies an Olympic priority? I have personally heard several people say “if the weather in Beijing was like this, I wouldn’t go back to the States after the Olympics.” For a city hoping to attract top talent, establish itself as a world class city, and avoid a recession in ’09, blue skies will be an important long term goal. For the Beijing government, rather than approach air pollution as a potential Olympic embarrassment, they should approach it as the city’s greatest weakness and one which needs to be solved. After all, the Olympics is only 17 days long.