Beijing’s Clean Olympic Air: Mostly Luck?

Smog in Beijing<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenzhang1221/6452505601/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_blank">大æ</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Back in 2008, the Chinese government went to great lengths to improve the air quality in famously smoggy Beijing in time for the Olympics. For months in advance of the games, the city’s motorists were only allowed to drive on certain days, and more than 300,000 of the most polluting vehicles were taken off the road entirely. The results, everyone thought, were impressive: A 2009 study found that the measures had reduced pollution by half.

But hold your applause: A newer study, released Tuesday, found that favorable weather conditions—rain at the start and wind during the games—played just as much of a role in the clean-up as emissions controls. A team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used models to analyze weather and smog conditions in the weeks leading up to the games, as well as during and after. They confirmed that the pollution during the games was about half as bad as usual. But they also found that strong storms were responsible for half of the overall smog reduction. In a PNNL press release, a lead scientist on the study said Beijing officials were “lucky” that the weather cooperated.

The researchers also found that the pollution didn’t just disappear when it was blown out of Beijing; rather, it moved to an area about 50 miles south of the city. It would have helped if the government had extended its strict emissions rules out beyond city limits, said the PNNL scientst. But considering just how grave Beijing’s smog situation has become in recent months, it’s pretty clear that the city and its environs are in need of much more than a quick pre-game clean-up. For a video of commuting in Beijing that will make your lungs hurt just to watch, click here.

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate