Six years ago China won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games with a promise of putting on a “green Olympics”. With one year remaining, you should be able to tell from these photos from last week that Beijing still has a way to go. Beijing has some sound ideas to improve smog as well as some interesting new technological ways they will try.
The first thing you notice when leaving the Beijing airport is the smog, which our tour guide called “fog”. Well, the “fog” never lifted the entire time we were in Beijing as you can tell from the first picture which was taken from the top of the Drum Tower near the Hutong part of Beijing or the second picture of the National Stadium dubbed “The Bird’s Nest” which was built for the Olympics.
Why is the smog so bad? There are several reasons which include bad practices from the past as well as a booming economy. Starting with a bad practice, during our Hutong Tour we received the honor of chatting with a resident within the 2nd circle and learned that during the winter most residents purchase and burn coal for heat. This winter the government will be subsidizing an upgrade to an electric heater from the pollution creating coal used currently. Also, Beijing’s worst polluter, the Shougang Group coal-burning factory, was shut down.
Also, with the booming economy car sales have gone through the roof as there are an estimate 1 million cars traveling the Beijing highways as well as new high rises across the city are sprouting up. I count 14-15 cranes in the Atlanta area with new construction for high rises whereas you can spot that many cranes in Beijing during a short walk. Dust and particulates are generated from these new high rises under construction.
The environment around Beijing will also be a stumbling block that Beijing will have to hurdle to have a clean Olympics. Unfortunately, in Augusts winds are blown in from the highly industrialized Hebei province and the smog is blocked from leaving the Beijing area by surrounding mountains. It’s believed that up to 70 percent of Beijing’s pollution during the summer originates from elsewhere.
Beijing plans to combat smog in various ways. First, replacing all coal-burning residential heaters with new electric heaters and shutting down all coal-burning plants in June of next year has already been planned. Beijing plans to park 1 million or so cars and stop construction during the Olympics in hopes to clean the air. My personal favorite method to scrub away the pollution is a new use for anti-aircraft guns. Meteorologists plan to shoot silver iodide in the air to seed clouds for a scrubbing rain.
Beijing has already executed on several fronts by designing and building green Olympic venues. Besides glowing blue in the night sky for the Olympics, the “Water Cube” sports a high-efficiency thermal polymer skin and the most advanced water recycling setup in the world while the Bird’s Nest is outfitted with an advanced rainwater-capture system to water the infield grass. Solar-powered showers will be installed in the Olympic Village and electric buses are starting to replace older buses as well as the introduction of 3,000 lithium-ion garbage trucks.
It will be a grand feat if Beijing can clean up their city within one year for the Olympics, but an even grander feat to keep Beijing smog-free after the Olympics.