Beijing F(SM)OG – Part 1

…statement by the committee [IOC] president, Jacques Rogge: “The fog you see is based on the basis of humidity and heat. It does not mean to say that this fog is the same as pollution. It can be pollution, but the fog doesn’t mean necessarily that it is pollution.”

I find this patently offensive. Even if I hadn’t spent two weeks in China last year, and seen this “fog” firsthand, it would reek of bullshit. But I was, and I did, and ambient air quality is my bag, baby. Fog is a dew point event, relative humidity vs temperature to be specific. The gray miasma that you see enveloping Beijing, and don’t get to see enveloping the other regions of China, is not just smog, it is beyond smog. It is a heavy cocktail of all the major air pollutant groups, and it can and does have devastating effects on living creatures.

All of the public information regarding air pollution monitoring in China suggests an extremely cynical approach. They only monitor for coarse particulate matter (PM10), they don’t monitor fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfates, or volatile organics. When their PM10 measurements let them down, they either moved the monitors to cleaner areas, or simply shut them off. When asked if they planed on improving their air monitoring, the response was “Yes, after the olympics”. What is ironic is that most air pollution monitoring gear is very low-tech by modern standards. Heck, they Chinese actually make some decent air monitors that are used in the west.

I don’t want to be misunderstood on this. I am pro-China, in that I see the potential for their role as a positive force on the planet. The people I met in China were genuine, warm, and giving. Their culture is rich and diverse. Their food is astonishing if you can find the real stuff and stay out of tourist joints. But damn, there is a strong undercurrent of purposeful foot-dragging and feigned ignorance that undermines the current state of their culture. That is largely a government function, but it permeates the culture at large. Big Bother is not a derogatory concept in China. More bluntly: Beautiful people, diverse culture, shitty government… just like the USA!

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