Fog in Beijing Sparks Concerns

The following article focuses on Beijing’s pollution woes in the run up to the Olympics. With the organizing committee and municipal government enforcing policies to ensure clear skies and clean air in a bid to stage a successful Olympics, four continuous days of fog in the Chinese capital was ringing alarm bells.

The article, written while on an internship with the Beijing bureau of Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore’s Chinese language flagship daily, was published July 28, 2008.

Text and photos by Weilun Soon.

空气污染指数连续四天超标,雾锁北京令人忧

距离北京奥运会开幕式还有12天,昨天北京被一片浓雾笼罩着,引起中国国内外关注。随着北京奥运的临近,北京的空气质量依旧令人担忧,让绿色奥运的目标蒙上阴影。

北京近日的市内空气能见度每况愈下,更有数据显示自24日起,北京的空气污染指数连续四天超标。北京环保局24日至26日所监测到的平均空气污染指数指数分别是113、110、115,而昨日的空气污染指数至截稿时,预计会达到125的上限,是四天来污染指数最高的一天。

日前国际媒体对北京空气质量的质疑声浪四起,近日由舆论转向国际社会的实际行动。美国奥组委已经向美国代表团发放了刚研制的口罩,以确保运动员不受北京污浊的空气侵蚀。澳洲运动委员会更表明因为担心北京空气质量,决定不让其田径运动员参加开幕式。

美国总统布什把抵制北京奥运联系到了“羞辱”中国的高度,昨天的空气污染指数对宣传“绿色奥运”且重视面子的北京奥运东道主,多少造成一定的尴尬。

北京市环保局副局长杜少中26日在北京奥运会主新闻中心关于“北京市近期空气质量情况”的新闻发布会上许诺,北京是“可以保证奥运期间空气质量良好,为运动员提供良好环境。”

今年7月20日成了北京实现“绿色奥运”的标志性日期之一。北京在当天实行车辆单双号限行,有学者估计,这能给北京市减少汽车尾气排放50%。同日,北京施工工地的土石方工程和混凝土浇注工程必须全部停工。

杜少中表示:“各项主要污染物,比去年同期分别下降20个百分点以上。”

虽然北京为绿色奥运的设想不遗余力地投入工作,但至北京奥运会开幕式还有12天的昨天,烟雾覆盖中国首都的情景,已经引起中国民众的关注。

从事媒体业的林先生(28岁)说:“北京市应该加强管理措施,这样的空气质量怎么见得了人啊?”

北京在控制空气质量的努力,很大程度上还得依赖天时地利。北京市气象局气象台台长郭虎26日指出:“近日公众感觉天气闷热,能见度差主要是由于空气中水汽含量较大造成的。”

郭虎的解释获得昨天在天安门广场游玩的王小姐(36岁,信息科技行业)的认同。在北京工作已有6年之久的王小姐觉得,昨天空气能见度差,纯属偶然。她说:“北京夏天就是这样闷热,今天的雾气应该是由水汽造成的。”

反复强调污染指数明显下降的杜少中指出,雾气不代表空气污染。他表示这样的雾气使得能见度下降,“就像在浴室里洗澡也可能看不见对面的人。”

刘先生(30岁,化工业)理解地表示,虽然实行了那么多措施,污染问题“不是一天内就可以解决的”。他昨天与父母在天安门广场观光,指着国家博物馆周围的吊车说:“当然,你看那些小工程还在进行,多少都会影响空气质量。”

空气质量的争论并没有影响到有些人对于奥运的期待与热忱。来自江西的张臻云(17岁,学生)承认北京的环境的确不太好,但是北京近来对环境作出了不少努力,这些作法应该持续下去。他说:“奥运是我们全国的骄傲,所以不论污染或者其它的问题,我们都应该热忱地迎接奥运。”

太平洋彼岸的美国人雷德(Rad,36岁,从事建筑业)来北京出差不下五次。他觉得今天虽然起雾,但说道:“北京为奥运会所进行的筹备是有目共睹的,我也觉得类似今天的天气将不成问题。”

English translation:

With less than twelve days left to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, the thick fog that blanketed the Chinese capital yesterday sparked international concerns. Beijing’s poor air quality recently has shrouded the promise of a “Green Olympics” in a thick fog of uncertainty.

Visibility in Beijing dropped drastically in recent days. Figures released by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau reveal that since last Thursday, air pollution exceeded healthy levels four days in a row. Indices from Thursday to Saturday reached levels of 113, 110 and 115 respectively. Sunday’s index at press time is projected to hit an alarming 125, the highest of the four days.

Previous concerns about Beijing’s pollution levels have now turned into action. The U.S. Olympic Committee dealt out special face masks to its Olympic delegation so as to protect its athletes from Beijing’s pollution. Australia has announced that her delegates, due to concerns about air quality, would not attend the Opening Ceremony.

To a host who prides itself on “Green Olympics”, coupled with the great significance it attaches to the Games of the 29th Olympiad, such international backlash have caused Beijing diplomatic embarrassment.

Environmental Protection Bureau chief Du Shaozhong expressed Saturday that “air quality will certainly improve during the Games. This would provide athletes a conducive environment to participate in.”

Added Du, “I think there’s no need for masks. If you insist upon that, it just adds weight to your luggage. I really think there’s no need for them.”

July 20 was a milestone in Beijing’s “Green Olympics” campaign. Thousands of cars were taken off roads in Beijing with the enforcement of a directive limiting private car usage. On the same day, all construction work in the city must be suspended.

“Our policies have seen success – pollution levels have dropped by over 20 percent over the year,” said Du.

Yet, given Beijing’s efforts, Beijing’s thick haze yesterday has ignited concerns.

“The city should strengthen air quality controls. How can we invite guests to Beijing if it keeps going on like this?” questioned Lin, 28, a resident of Beijing who works in the media industry.

The success of the pollution-reducing policies still has to depend on geographic factors. Guo Hu, bureau chief of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau said that in recent days humidity levels were high.

Miss Wang, who has been working in Beijing for six years, agrees with Guo.

“It’s not uncommon to be this humid in Beijing during summer. The fog is caused by the humidity,” she said. Despite the haze, Wang was out on Tiananmen Square sight-seeing yesterday.

Wang believes that it was by pure coincidence that Beijing experienced low visibility yesterday.

Du, who often reiterates that pollution levels have dropped, said that the fog does not equate to high levels of pollution. “It’s like how you cannot see across the bathroom when you’re in the shower,” he added.

Liu, 30, who works in the chemical engineering industry, was also at Tiananmen Square with his parents, said that pollution isn’t something that can be resolved immediately, upon the implementation of pollution-reducing directives.

“Small construction works are still ongoing,” he said, pointing to cranes that were atop the National Museum right next to Tiananmen Square. “These works will definitely affect air pollution levels.”

The debate over air pollution has not diminished the excitement some have for the upcoming Games, however. Student Zhang Zhenyun, 17, who was visiting the city said that though Beijing’s air quality still leaves much to be desired, authorities have worked hard in pollution-control, and that these efforts should continue.

He said, “To be able to host the Olympics is a pride all Chinese should enjoy. The debate on pollution should not stop us from taking part in this pride together.”

Rad, 36, an American who works in the construction industry, has been in Beijing five times. In noticing the fog, he commented, “Beijing has done a lot to lower pollution levels. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem when the Games start.”


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