Beijing's Press Sticks Its Head up Into Choking Skies

The American Embassy in Beijing is describing air conditions in Beijing as “hazardous"--levels never seen in the US--and daring Chinese journalists are for the first time in agreement.

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  1. What does Taylor Swift have to do with Beijing's smog disaster? Answer: the unlikely (and eerie, no?) soundtrack to this Beijing commute, posted last night on China's video-hosting service, Youku. (The title reads--euphemistically--"Beijing's Big Fog.")
  2. 北京大雾,现实版寂静岭!!!!!!! - 视频 - 优酷视频 - 在线观看
  3. For those of you who haven't been to China's sprawling capital of 19 million, I know descriptions of the air sound hysterical and overhyped. But I'm here to tell you: It really is that bad. The sun looks like a satellite in a dying solar system. 

    When I lived in Beijing for nearly 18 months before the 2008 Olympics, pollution from cars and coal plants wiped whole colors from the visible spectrum. At the time, the city was introducing a raft of changes designed to increase the number of "blue-sky days," to scrub the city clean for the Olympics (limiting the hours of factories that ring the city; tightening the number of cars on the road). But Beijing's blue skies were as rare as whiskey springs. Some days awarded this accolade, I could only just spot some of Earth’s upper atmosphere from the ground.

    Hard facts are elusive in China. But especially about the “fog,” as officials call it. What makes the latest attack of smog different is that the Chinese media is feeling angry about it, even running daring headlines. And China’s bloggers and microbloggers are fueling the anger. Oh: and the busiest airport in Asia, Beijing's stupendous Capital Airport, was forced to suspend flights. That was a pretty big deal.
  4. The China Daily--the English-language voice piece for the government--ran this especially testy article:
  5. Climate Desk partner James Fallows at The Atlantic explains the detail of the current furor, and America's role in it: It's all about standards and the release of information to the Chinese public.
  6. Much of the political and press controversy involves "PM 2.5" -- the fine-particulate pollution that is threatening to human health, that is closely monitored in the rest of the world, but for which the only known, publicly available data in China has come from an "unauthorized" measuring site on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Its hourly readings are sent out via Twitter, @BeijingAir. Twitter feeds are of course blocked in China, and so are available only to those outside the country or others who know how to get around China's Great Firewall.
  7. The conflict between the US and Chinese standards--while familiar to expats in Beijing for a long time--is suddenly poking its head out in the local press:
  8. According to the state-run China Daily, if the US standard was adopted nationwide, only 20 percent of Chinese cities would be rated as having satisfactory air quality, against the current 80 percent.
  9. Naturally, authorities are still trying to weave a silver lining into this sulfuric cloud. This from Yu Jianhua, director of air pollution control division with the Beijing environmental protection bureau:
  10. "If you compare the air quality on an annual basis, it is actually improving," Yu insisted. "We have been continuing to reduce the emission of pollutants."
  11. Here's a roundup of some of the best pics:
  12. And if you want to know more, the Asia Society curated this fascinating multimedia project on Beijing's air problems and a time-lapse taken from a single Beijing apartment complex in 2009. Well worth it:
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