Saturday, 9 August 2008

Smog Olympics

The Chinese have a tradition of believing that numbers have a certain power, so they arranged to start the Olympics on an auspicious day, the 8th of the 8th, 2008. The word for "eight" in Mandarin sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth". You can tell quite a lot about a culture from their language.

However the Chinese have their own calender,, based on the cycles of the moon. Perhaps in that calender its not a good day, as the games didn't start well. Despite drastic measures to reduce pollution in Beijing, closing factories and banning cars, there's smog as can be seen in the picture above.

Over 10,000 athletes are competing in the Olympic Games in one of the world's dirtiest cities, so much for a 'green games' as promised by China, just imagine the emissions from flying them, their support people, hangers on journalists and sport fans. Pure greenwash. I went to China many years ago (by train from Russia, the trans Siberian express), and I was amazed at the proximity of factories with chimneys to blocks of flats. The planning laws in Britain that we complain aren't tight enough are made to look like paradise by comparison.

The International Olympics Committee says that endurance events for the 2008 Olympics may have to be postponed due to smog. Although the Chinese government has imposed an every-other-day driving regulation, Beijing's pollution index has risen all week.

The athletes could be exposed to unhealthy air pollution, but the citizens of China suffer this every day. The air is often thick with pollution in Beijing, a city of 11 million. When there is no rain or wind, ozone and fine dust accumulate, often to a rate that is two or three times the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The fine dust stems mainly from coal power plants and factories, while vehicle exhaust gases are responsible for the ozone. Its a vicious cycle, the worse the air, the more people will want to use cars to protect their lungs, causing more pollution. Children, the chronically ill, the elderly and endurance athletes like marathon runners and cyclists face the greatest risk. Endurance athletes spend hours performing at peak levels in the open air, inhaling up to 150 liters of air a minute, more than 10 times as much as a sedentary office worker. Ozone and fine dust can cause inflammation that requires treatment with asthma and anti-inflammatory drugs. It may also be linked to Cancer.

More than 20 percent of US athletes reacted to the smog in Athens with breathing difficulties. In Los Angeles, British runner Steve Ovett collapsed with respiratory problems after the 800-meter race. Ovett is convinced that pollution was the culprit. "Many suffered from the bad air, but hardly anyone said anything," Ovett complained in an article in the scientific journal Nature.

It seemed a crazy idea at the time to have the Olympics in China, they promised openness has turned out to be a lie, but at least the world is now seeing more of why China needs to change.

(Micrograms per cubic meter)
Source: The World Bank Particulate
1 Cairo Egypt 169
2 Delhi India 150
3 Kolkata India 128
4 Tianjin China 125
5 Chongqing China 123
7 Kampur India 109
8 Lucknow India 109
9 Jakarta Indonesia 104
10 Shenyang China 101
11 Zhengzhou China 97
12 Jinan China 94
13 Lanzhou China 91
14 Taiyuan China 88
16 Beijing China 89
17 Chengdu China 86
18 Ahmadabad India 83
19 Anshan China 82
20 Wuhan China 79,1518,491184,00.html

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Only Australia is Cognizant of Beijing Smog Danger, Sending Team from Hong
Kong Training Camp for Event Only; Olympics President Asked to Remove
Triathlon, Marathon, and Cycling Out of Deadly Smog

Stephen Fox

Because of concern about air quality, most of Australia’s track and field
athletes will miss the Aug. 8 Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing. With
events beginning after Aug. 15, one week after the opening, Athletics
Australia has chosen to hold its pre-Olympic training camp in Hong Kong.
Competitors will then fly to Beijing three or four days before their events.

“As many sports have said, China presents difficulties for athletes going in
and being there for a period of time,” Athletics Australia national
performance manager Max Binnington. “Anything more than five or six days and
they inevitably end up with some sort of respiratory problem. So that was why
many of the sports who don’t have to be in there early are choosing not to go
in. And the outcome is that it’s almost impossible to go for the
opening ceremony.” Australia’s triathletes will also miss the opening
ceremonies for similar reasons. “Most of our athletes have accepted the
decision straight away."

Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Bejiing organizing committee, stated that
nations could be flexible for the opening ceremonies. “Every team can
arrange its schedule according to its own plan,” Sun said. “As for the
environmental problems, we’ve said many times that we’re confident that we
can provide clean air during the Olympic Games.” A plan for Beijing’s
notoriously clogged traffic include half of the city’s 3.3 million vehicles
being banned each day, using an odd-even system from registration plates.

“Generally those competing of the first day or the second day don’t march,
standing up for eight hours a day or so before competition isn’t a medically
smart thing to do,” AOC spokesman Tancred said. Australian and Hong Kong
physicians have backed this up: see "Medical Experts Say Olympians Face
Health and Performance Difficulties in Beijing's Air Pollution from Hong
Kong and Australian Physicians: Even Spectators Should Worry!" at:,
an article by Tan Ee Lyn.

Despite IOC President Jacques Rogge's "Beijing air pollution cheer" a few
days ago from Lausanne, Switzerland, in which he basically dismisses all of
these concerns, I would like you to be aware of my latest articles, which we
refer to by URL in order to bring you the photo essay on Beijing smog:

[Title: Jacques Rogge and Olympic Committee: Please move Marathon,
Triathlon, and Cycling out of Beijing's Deadly Air Pollution! Carbon
Monoxide, Industrial Pollution, Lead, Particulate Matter, Ozone]

Please also see earlier article:

[Title: Beijing's Infernal Air Pollution Will Kill A Few Olympic Athletes;
Most US Athletes Will Wear Masks While Preparing for Their Events]

If you know Olympic athletes, physicians, sports enthusiasts, and
internationally minded people, please forward this to them, and to friends
and colleagues. If you comprehend that we could prevent a few athletes from
inevitable expiration in the Beijing smog, you can also email Mr. Rogge

Stephen Fox, Contributing Editor Santa Fe Sun News

Photo Essay: Close Up of Bird’s Nest Stadium Engulfed in Beijing Smog:

One by my wise sardonic friend, James Fallows, Washington Editor Atlantic