to unleash Sunday a massive $17 million
programme to clean up Beijing
air ahead of Olympics, but nature seems to be playing spoilsport!
is dubbed the most polluted city in the world, but authorities wont give in.
They have announced a series of measures including traffic ban, factory closure
and cloud-seeding in a desperate attempt to see the Olympic air is breathable
and conforms to the WHO standards.
Whatever the efficacy of the mandarins, nature itself could
be against them, some suggest.
Beijing's worst air-quality days are often not the result of
human activities, but meteorological phenomena -- namely, the lack of cold
fronts pushing across the city from Mongolia.
"They are trying every conceivable thing and that is
the right approach," said Kenneth Rahn,
a professor emeritus at the University
of Rhode Island, who's
been working with Chinese researchers on interpreting air quality data.
"But when the air is worst in Beijing,
it's the hardest to control."
Stricter car emissions regulations, high-tech smog fighting
and possibly cooking the
books have helped Beijing
pollution levels over the last decade even as the city's population
doubled from 2000 to 2006.
Still, the levels of particulate matter, or soot, as well as
other health-damaging pollutants,
experience peaks in which they are far above
the World Health Organization's recommendations. Events requiring
prolonged outdoor exposure and air intake, like the marathon, could even be
postponed due to the regulations.
"There is both a local
component and a regional component to the pollutants that cause unhealthy air
in Beijing, and
the severity of their effects are driven by weather fronts and winds,"
"Since it's controlled
by the weather, it will be a matter of luck whether the bad air periods
correspond with days of outdoor Olympic events."
Locally generated pollutants
consist primarily of organic matter from transportation, factories and cooking,
while regional sources of pollution include ammonium sulfates and ammonium
nitrates from coal-burning power plants, industry and transportation sources,
which are easily transported long distances in the atmosphere.
"The air pollution
pattern in Beijing
is unusual, with high and low concentrations that can differ by a factor of 50
to 100," Rahn said. "When the winds shift to the north and bring in
clear air from Mongolia,
the air can be relatively clean, though that's not the norm during the summer.
But when winds are from the south, where there is a large population and lots
of industrial activity, the air can be particularly hazardous."
"It's one thing to take
steps to try to clean up a big city, but unless they also clean up the
surrounding provinces, it's going to have a minor effect," said Rahn.
"They've tried to relocate some of the polluting industries over time, and
gotten a little cleaner each year because of it, but the background pollutants
still blow in just the same."
The government's plan to
reduce pollution during the Olympics focuses on cutting automobile use in half
while also temporarily shutting down factories and other large polluters. Rahn
said that it is an expensive plan, since the government must reimburse the factories
for their economic losses, and the plan will remain in place through the
conclusion of the Paralympic Games in late September.
factory shutdowns are aiming to reduce the amount of pollution
coming from surrounding regions, but the government must balance the economic
impact of such actions. As a result, it's hard to predict the actual magnitude
of some of China's
Some international Olympic officials have praised the
Chinese government's efforts. Earlier this week,the British Olympic Association
chief executive, Simon Clegg, expressed confidence that the shutdowns -- which
he called "radical arrangements" -- would clear the air.
But hopes of a blue-sky Olympics could still remain in the
realms of fantasy.
might be mounting the most aggressive effort to clean up. Still they can't wish away the devastating
impact of breakneck development.
Last summer, in what amounts to one of the larger urban
science experiments in history, Chinese officials forced drivers with car
license plates ending in odd-digits to alternate driving days with even-digit
The system took roughly half the cars off the road per day,
but Rahn says that the actual reduction of particulate matter in the city's air
was negligible, most likely less than 10 percent.
"The great automobile experiment did not yield
detectable changes in PM (particulate matter)," Rahn said.
The same goes for China's attempts at cloud seeding,
either to flush the pollutants out of the air, or prevent rain from spoiling
outdoor events. Reports have surfaced that the Chinese government has a
veritable army of rain
modifiers armed with anti-aircraft guns
launchers loaded with cloud-seeding compounds. But Rahn said there is no
evidence that weather modification on the scale it would have to practiced in Beijing is feasible.
"They cannot depend on weather modification. Nature is
bigger and stronger than the Chinese people and rockets," Rahn said.
"The west has known this for 50 years but China is in the stage of
development where they think science and technology can do everything."
"I sympathize with
them. They're doing all the right things, but unfortunately the right things
may not be good enough," Rahn said. "There will surely be some good
days and some bad days. But the meteorological uncertainties mean that you
can't predict how bad it will be more than two or three days ahead, and that
may not be enough time for them to reschedule the marathon or the long-distance
"My advice to them at
this point is to keep up the good work and then pray to the Mongolian Weather
Gods to send cold fronts. That's their best hope for clean air."