Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A smoggy day

This is the view from my balcony this morning. In real life, it looks rather worse. Those buildings beyond the park are little more than a quarter of a mile away but are looking decidedly hazy. The historic Drum Tower, just out of shot to the right, is barely a mile away, but is almost completely invisible.

As I opened my window for about 5 seconds to take this shot, my nose and throat were immediately assailed by the choking, dusty fug that leaves a dry taste of soil in your mouth.

According to the State Environmental Protection Agency website, today's API is 126. That is a blatant lie. I've had enough experience of Beijing's air and comparative pollution indices to know that now. 126 is BAD; but this is much, much worse. This is on a par with a few days we had back in December where the the API was rating in the 300s and 400s (and, on one horrendous occasion, above the top of the scale at 500).

I was full of good intentions of heading out for a long run this morning - but not in these conditions. I think I'm going to cower at home all day, with all the doors and windows tightly shut. Indeed, I may try to stay inside all week - or until it clears up enough for me to be able to once again see those buildings 400 or 500 yards away.


Tulsa said...

I noticed that the govt web site I used to check for reports on air pollution index was revamped...

I also noticed that the ratings it now provides are obvious and blatant lies.


good call on staying indoors... it's my first day back... you can't imagine my misery.

Froog said...

Ah, you're back already? I thought you were away till the end of the month.

Bad timing! It was lovely until yesterday.

The British Cowboy said...

Looks perfect conditions for premier athletes to perform their best.

Tulsa said...

yes, unexpected early return. bleh. awful timing.

The British Cowboy said...

So is the climate usually better or worse than this around Olympic time?

Froog said...

It's worse, Cowboy, much, much worse.

They can probably nail the pollution issue pretty well by: shutting down all building sites in and around the city (although I bet there'll be some that slip through the next, or buy themselves exemptions through their guanxi; shutting down all the factories and power stations for 50 or 100 miles upwind; imposing draconian restrictions on the use of motor vehicles; and (this is my favourite - remarkably ingenious, although I'm sceptical whether it works) moving all the cloud-seeding artillerly batteries further west to shoot down the clouds before they get here, thereby "washing the sky clean of pollutants".

However, I doubt they'll be able to steal enough water from the rest of the country to lay all the dust we suffer in the baking summer heat. And I doubt they'll remember to remove all the tens of thousands of heaps of builder's sand which dot the city, and which are a major source of our "dust storms".

The worst thing about August is that it is always fiendishly hot, and usually soupily humid as well (pretty much like DC, in fact). The humidity, I fear, is likely to be made even worse by the frantic amount of extra watering of grass and trees that will be going on, and by the fact that we won't be getting many of the usual late-afternoon clearing-the-air showers if they're shooting the clouds down early.

Still, it looks as if I'm going to get deported before then, so why worry?

Froog said...

I now gather this might have been a full-on "dust storm" - although these things usually originate in the parched farms around the city's perimeter or in the multitudinous building sites within the Ring Roads rather than in "the Gobi" as the official news always tries to suggest.

And heavy particulate matter should also be measured in the API. That air was completely unbreathable: there's no way it was only APE 126.

Froog said...

Oh Jeez, Friday was very nearly as bad - despite some premature 'April showers' early in the morning. In fact, the air quality was rancid even while it was still raining.

So much for the "washing the pollutants out of the sky" theory!

My throat is in terrible shape. I'm sounding like Tom Waits without having to make any special effort. I think I need to go and lubricate it.

Oh my! The Happy Hour at Room 101 is just starting - must dash.

Anonymous said...

Forgive my ignorance, Froog - is this appalling atmosphere largely that 'Loess' that I seem vaguely to recall reading about in Geology books all those years ago, ie soil/dust being blown in from the surrounding plains - and hence 'natural'? Or is it straight industrial pollution from factories burning high-sulphur coal etc.? Or a bit of both?

I'd rather die than live under those conditions, to be honest.

Froog said...

A bit of both, I think, Mothman.

There is a persistent myth that the worst of the dust blows all the way in from the far Western provinces, but I read that studies on the last 'big one' a couple of years ago revealed that it had all originated from farmland within a few miles of Beijing. The smaller events we get so regularly in Spring and Autumn are, I think, almost entirely down to sand from building sites, dust from the bare soil around the base of the city's hundreds of thousands of water-guzzling trees, and...... debris from building demolitions (and one dreads to think what manner of nasties that contains).

And then there's industrial and motor vehicle pollution. And smoke - from stubble burning in the country, from the umpteen annual "let's burn paper money and models of consumer goods to appease our ancestors" festivals, and just from burning trash at the side of the roads.

It is ten times worse than you could ever imagine. I've probably taken years of my life by exposing myself to this.

Anonymous said...

We in the UK religiously re-cycle all sorts of stuff - painstakingly sifting apart paper, plastic, bottles etc. before placing it in colour-coded bins for collection...upon pain of prosecution and fines by local councils if we do not.

I was speaking to a guy at the local city council a few years back and I asked him what was done with this stuff - since I knew damned well that at the time the bottom had dropped clean out of the price of recyled plastic and paper (and that the money to persuade people to remove or bury the stuff did not appear to feature large on any published accounts).

It transpired that at that time (and maybe now - who knows?) the plastic was being shredded; baled and put into the holds of ships sailing back to China (that had arrived ful of cheap goods for Argos to sell to further dent our balance of trade)as ballast. Once in China I gathered that it was being burned!!! A neat way of solving the pollution issue by exporting it!

Truly is Economics called the 'dismal science'.

This month's National Geographic has an article on low-cost 'recycling' by back-yard workshops in such countries as India and China... To get rid of the insulation of valuable copper wire is a piece of cake, it transpires - you just burn it off! Yes, quite.