2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Pollution wussies go quiet

While your correspondent believes Beijing's air quality is a serious problem that I hope will be solved before everyone who lives in Beijing gets emphysema, it has always struck me that the Olympic Games air pollution scares were rather silly.

The Games have previously been held in polluted cities like Los Angeles and Mexico City, and the range of factors affecting athletic performance includes altitude, temperature, and wind. An athlete should be able to compete in different conditions, and pollution is one of the realities of 21st Century life.

Moreover, there are between 12 and 20 million people who live in and around Beijing on a permanent basis. Health concerns about people staying here for a week or two never deserved to be taken seriously.

On Saturday, the same day that Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt broke the world record for the 100 meter dash (9.69 seconds, see see story) The New York Times published an article by science journalist Gina Kolata:

An Artful Jogger in Beijing: The Pollution Is Not an Issue

Almost everything I was told about running in Beijing was wrong. My clothes would turn gray from pollution. I would be coughing and wheezing, hacking out black phlegm. I would never see any Chinese runners. I should just concentrate on getting some miles in — there was no way I would ever be able to maintain a reasonable pace. Or maybe I should just give up and spend my time on treadmills in the gym.

My goal, my coach Tom Fleming said, is just to run six or seven miles every day. I can worry about longer distances and pace when I get home.

So far, I have more than met that goal, and while these certainly are not good conditions for preparing to run a marathon — too hot and humid — they are not much worse than what I am used to on summer days in Princeton, N.J., where I live. If anything, it is easier to run fast here because it is so flat in Beijing. Pollution has not been an issue or, at least, if the air is polluted, it has not bothered me.

Still, it's probably a good thing that air quality has been made a serious media concern. Whether anything is done about Beijing's air and China's many other environmental problems after the Games remains to be seen, but the Party is making the right noises: see this China Daily article published this morning titled Environment remains top priority - Wen.

There are currently 20 Comments for Pollution wussies go quiet.

Comments on Pollution wussies go quiet

Having been able to see the mountains along which the great wall passes north of Beijing on the TV pictures, and with a new Olympic record in the 10,000 meters, etc. it should be clear that the western media's propaganda war has exploded in their faces. I hope the public in the west realises from this just how much they are lied to.

I’m not a huge believer in the prevalence of “China bashing”. By that I mean that if a country has myriad problems then it’s quite likely that a free media will cover them.

However, internet forum posters outside China do seem to have been relishing the rather dodgy Beijing pollution anecdotes – “Every day you spend in Beijing is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes” or “70 cigarettes” or “100 cigarettes”.

It reminds me of that bullshit “men think about sex every ten seconds” factoid which was never true in the first place but then became 7 seconds, then 5 seconds based purely on the extent to which people wanted to believe it.

I think in the West people are absolutely aware of the environmental damage they do but, for the majority, it’s preferable to find someone or somewhere that does worse than you and focus on that.

Otherwise what’s the alternative? Actually DOING something to reduce your “footprint”? That takes a lot more time and effort.

It's true, it's not like the pollution is so bad here that it would kill a 20 year-old running a marathon.

The problem is that when you are a FOB, you can only see so much, and if you are a reporter who just landed 2 days before the Olympics the only thing you are able to see is the air pollution and cyclists getting off the plane with face masks.

The fact that 1.3 billion people are enduring environmental conditions that are going to exist after the Olympics packs up is neither or interest contextually to many who are outside of China

Its too bad that the real stories are being missed as there are some real stories of challenges and solutions here.


it sounds like a scare tactic or china bashing only if you have no standard of comparison (ie. have never actually worked out in a polluted city). having done so in both LA (which, mind you, is polluted) and Beijing (which, mind you, is ridiculously polluted) my experience was that the difference was rather sharp. what happens when you exercise in a polluted environment is that your lungs are "burned", meaning that you get this singed sensation in your lungs that limits your ability to breath. after racing in LA on a noticeably bad day, i would have a few hours (usually 4-5) when i couldn't take a full breath. after doing so in beijing, it took three days.

Hey lighten up! Pollution makes for great sunsets!

reading the western reports about the beijing air pollution, i feel like i live in a hell of black smoke, but actually i think it is getting better and better, of ocurse it is not like what it was 100 years ago. but people care and pay attention to this, so it will turn to the positive side.

also, look at those chinese athletes they are trained in beijing basically, and look at how many gold they won, and the huge step they make.

"Health concerns about people staying here for a week or two never deserved to be taken seriously."

Just to clarify, we're not talking about the athletes here, right? That would seem to be an absurd statement if it were referring to those who are here SOLELY to engage in physical competition; because, yes, we should take athletes' health more seriously. It's the Olympics, and Beijing was chosen for it's role as host per it's own request. And since Beijing was chosen - by a committee - to serve as the host for athletic competition, it does have a duty (one it fully acknowledged at the time of entreating the host status) to provide good conditions for the athletes.

Also, let's not forget that at present half the cars are off the road and heavy-polluting factories for hundreds of miles have been shut down for the past 4 weeks to reduce emissions. Beijing is a less polluted place now than it has been in a long time (and better than any summer I can remember out of the 5 I've been here). Saturday was an uncommonly beautiful day - no wonder the VISITING NYT contributor has been enjoying the weather! But when the athletes, the cameras, the tourists have gone, when the cars come back on the roads and the factories fire up the coal furnaces, we'll be welcoming back the days of 5-meter visibility.

Believe me, I understand that some Western media has a tendency to scapegoat China, and that reports often exaggerate true circumstances. But why the need now to turn the news cycle 180 degrees and chastise the media for reporting what, at the core, is a very real problem? Beijing IS polluted. Very polluted. No one should be apologizing for criticizing that fact. If I lived in LA or Mexico City I'd be criticizing it there, but I live in Beijing, so... you get the idea.

ps - um, pretty sure the majority of China's Olympians don't train in Beijing..?? That really wouldn't be the smartest move.

I can't help feeling there's a bit of a contradiction between saying "it's probably a good thing that air quality has been made a serious media concern" and calling unspecified people "pollution wussies".
Who are the pollution wussies if not the people who made the serious issue of air quality a serious media concern? (or are we still talking about those 2 cyclists here?)
True, there probably has been a bit of hype, but that happens with every serious issue in the media.

I have been in Beijing on days when it would have been awful to attempt a marathon. And to the authorities credit, they realized the problem and took measures against it. It will be even more to their credit if they're prepared to take more measures that show they care about long term residents as much as they care about visiting athletes.

Of course pollution wussies go quiet now that they see the reality of Beijing is not the hell that they thought, China has made a lot of effort so that they go quiet.
No censorship needed with such nice reporters...

Anyone who cares enough knows that the past weeks have been exceptionally clean ( last 7 days have a PMI 54 average, when the last year had a PMI 100 average, that's clear enough), and anyone with 2 eyes can guess that all this massive construction sites hidden behind 'beijing 2008' banners are suspiciously quiet and clean.

Wait a second: Half the number of cars on the road as usual, factories shut down leading up to and during the games...."See, pollution in Beijing really isn't that bad. You silly people who are visiting our city just don't understand." Give me a break. That is just as silly as people in the US now saying, "With gasoline prices dropping now looks like we don't need to worry about investing in alternative energy sources. What were we thinking...."

And nice link to China Daily. This post is worthy of something they would have written.

I get his point. Pollution is a problem in China but whining about the air quality during the Olympics is just whining. Not so difficult to understand and not so China Daily as you suggest Mr. McCarthy.

I called you out on pollution last year, Goldkorn. I am in complete sympathy with your general observation that China gets dumped on in the media-- it does. Beijing air quality, though? It sucks ass, and we'd be leaning just as hard if Italy had been staging swimming events in the canals of Venice.

Beyond hosting the Olympics, China has got to get this shit under control if they care about their own people.

Cup of Cha, that article you link to says nothing about pollution but it does mention complaints of a lack of drinking water along the marathon route.

And besides, it's not unknown for young athletes to suddenly drop dead for no apparent reason, even in clean, green New Zealand.

Hey, pressuring China on the environment is so much easier than pressuring them on human rights, isn't it?

No, really. This is one case where I'd twist the dagger just because I can, because pressuring people to eliminate pollution is almost certainly a good thing, and because the Beijing government has little credibility on doing so, it's quite easy to attack them. I'd do the same anywhere.

It's one thing if China neglects an issue; then pressure can be applied to improve things. Same as every country.
What terrifies me is when China -- with its strong government, strong will, enormous Olympics budget -- still cannot control pollution. If China desperately WANTS to do something, and then can't, then you wonder if it has already gotten past the point of no return.
So it was finally clear after a week, thanks to weather patterns. But we all know that's temporary. (Hong Kong gets these "breaks" after rains and winds, too, but we know the pollution is still there). Anyone who has spent time in China knows about that lovely post-Chinese New Year blue sky, since all the factories closed during the holiday.
But what happens when the traffic and industry go back to normal?

I believe it's a matter of time and development of cleaner techs. I'm no expert on this but all the olympics anti-pollution stuff are mostly (prolly) superficial given they only had 6 years!

I'm hopeful that on a larger time scale, say 50 years, the pollution problem will be resolved. Say for example if you replace all the cars in Beijing with clean cars, stop the usage of coal, all the constructions (or construction with no dust), safe treatment of industry waste, etc, I think Beijing can be pretty clean.

Didn't U.S's pollution level dropped by a large amount since the 70's? You can say it's because of relocation some industries and tougher regulation and better tech or some other bullshit. This is a "matter of time and development."

The question is whether it will be because of the will of the government, or the invisible hand, or a combination of both bullshit cliches, or the NWO,or fucking virus... Who the fuck nos? In meantime I'm gonna be a wussie and suck in a lung full of pollutatns, pollutants are for wussies.

I think all the MILF and sci-fi and anime has gotten to my head. No man, the pollution problem will NEVERR BE SOLVED. We will all jsut live in rrap .... forever.

And Mr. Goldcorn, you seemed to have forgotten the oh nos I can't see 15 feet in front me because smog is everywhere days of last year. Good luck when all the cars go back out.

But really tho, lately I'm thinking all the green bullshit is just brain washing for a global carbon tax. I'm sure a little smog is not all that bad, plants breath c02 after all. Wasn't there a recent study which showed the planet is becoming greener, compared to a decade ago. I'm also seeing the whole global warming thing in a whole new light too.

However, I don't argue that we shouldn[t try to stay pollution free through new devlopment of cleaner techs.

MILF WEED et al.

Of course pollution is a serious problem for Beijing and for China: I said as much in my post.

But pollution was never going to ruin the Olympic Games, and as several commenters have pointed out above, what is important is what happens over the next decade, not the first eight months of 2008.

@Cup of Cha: Not sure how useful your example is. Two dead (one of them beyond retirement age) out of 25,000 amateur marathon runners seems pretty probable anywhere in the world. Especially considering the fact that no drinking water was available throughout the course.

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