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Buses

These are buses awaiting passengers within the Olympic area. Journalists will ride the buses to the venues or to their hotels. One thing I noticed: They were all idling their engines to keep their air conditioners running. These buses, however, should be newer — and greener — than the older buses in Beijing’s transportation system. But they aren’t the zero-emission ones powered by lithium batteries. So I wonder just how much effect they’re having on the environment. We might get an answer Tuesday, when officials hold a press conference on transportation.

The air quality has emerged as a thorny issue in Beijing. It’s a topic of conversation everywhere, from the press center to local bars. Officials are sticking to the party line that the air is improving and that athletes will be able to compete in 12 days. Few people believe them. And the comment by an IOC official that the haze over the city was just “mist” has been widely mocked.

A couple nights ago, I asked a couple expats if they the air had improved within the last month. Both of them chuckled. “No” was the quick and easy answer. I think one of them answered, “Hell no.”

Athletes will decide for themselves if the hazy sky they see will be mist or smog. My own opinion? Well, I don’t want to gross any one out, but when I blew my nose today, it came out black.

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James Fallows of the Atlantic has been keeping tracking of Beijing’s air quality from his apartment for weeks. Many, perhaps Chinese nationalists, are saying that it has improved following the government’s restrictions on cars and factories around the city.

I just got here a couple days ago, so I’m not sure what constitutes an improvement. All I can say definitively is that I haven’t seen a patch of blue since I’ve been here. The first full day I was here (Wednesday) I didn’t seem to notice the smog hanging over the city. But today, while I was walking around the Temple of Heaven, I definitely noticed the gray haze that enveloped Beijing.

Here’s a picture I took from the Temple.

Smog

Two weeks and counting, folks. Two weeks and counting.

Pollution in China has been one of the critical issues in China. Especially for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, where officials promise clean and clear skies for the entirety of the Games. It seems pretty optimistic considering how Beijing looks out of James Fallows’ apartment window. That photo was taken yesterday.

Fallows, who writes one of my favorite blogs, recently filed a story on pollution and how Chinese officials, citizens and entrepreneurs are dealing with the pollution crisis. While many people outside of China — especially people in the States — figure that China and its government are sitting on their hands on the environment, Fallows sees dedicated people trying to make China greener, either for altruistic reasons or financial.

Here is what I learned by visiting the cement factory, and by seeing and asking about many similar “green” projects in China: China’s environmental situation is disastrous. And it is improving. Everyone knows about the first part. The second part is important too. Outside recognition of where and why China has made progress increases the prospects that it will make further advances. Recognition also clarifies the most important obstacles, political and economic, to such progress. And it is simply fair to the many people within China, including within the Chinese Communist Party, who are trying their best to make a difference—and who are having more success than most Westerners who rely on media accounts would suspect.

The Western media has been charged by the Chinese people with being unfair, unbalanced and negative with their coverage on China. True or not, it’s sparked a backlash among Chinese people. While their jingoism is a turnoff, not to mention dangerous, the Chinese perhaps have a right to feel slighted.

Fallows’ article, however, acknowledges some of the work — uphill, daunting and perhaps Sisyphean — that’s being done to turn China green. China’s explosion, economically and socially, means growth that historically took centuries happened in a few decades. The country is playing catchup while critics continue to lambaste it, fair or not.

But perhaps we all have to step back and give credit where credit is due. Fallows’ last line:

The world will have more time to work toward a solution if it nurtures promising developments in China—and if it recognizes that its most populous nation is doing some things right.