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Beijing Begins Massive Shutdown To Curb Pollution Before Olympics

July 22, 2008

The Huffington Post
July 20, 2008

BEIJING -- Beijing's Olympic shutdown begins Sunday, a drastic plan
to lift the Chinese capital's gray shroud of pollution just three
weeks ahead of the games.

Half of Beijing's 3.3 million vehicles will be pulled off the roads
and many polluting factories will be shuttered. Chemical plants,
power stations and foundries left open have to cut emissions by 30
percent _ and dust-spewing construction in the capital will be halted.

In a highly stage-managed Olympics aimed at showing off the rising
power of the 21st century, no challenge is greater than producing
crystalline air for 10,500 of the world's greatest athletes.

"Pea-soup air at the opening ceremony would be their worst
nightmare," said Victor Cha, director of Asian Studies at Georgetown
University.

Striking venues and $40 billion spent to improve infrastructure
cannot mask Beijing's dirty air. A World Bank study found China is
home to 16 of the 20 worst cities for air quality. Three-quarters of
the water flowing through urban areas is unsuitable for drinking or fishing.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has
repeatedly warned that outdoor endurance events lasting more than an
hour will be postponed if the air quality is poor.

Under the two-month plan, vehicles will be allowed on the roads every
other day depending on even-odd registration numbers. In addition,
300,000 heavy polluting vehicles _ aging industrial trucks, many of
which operate only at night _ were banned beginning July 1.

Five days after Sunday's traffic ban goes into effect, special
Olympic traffic lanes will begin operating until Sept. 25, a plan
that has been used in previous games. Beijing is setting aside 165
miles of roadway on which certified Olympic vehicles will be allowed
to move from hotels, Olympic venues and Athletes Village.

To further ease congestion, employers are being asked to stagger work
schedules. Public institutions will open an hour later than normal
and two new subway lines scheduled to open Sunday should also bring relief.

The plan to clean the gray air seems to match the high-security tone
of the games, which will be policed by 100,000 officials.

Razor-wire barriers and soldiers standing at attention guard the
outskirts of the Olympic Green area and the Chinese have even
installed ground-to-air missiles near one Olympic venue to protect it
from possible attacks.

Security, tight visa rules and inflated hotel prices seem to be
keeping foreigners away. Many nightspots near Olympic venue are being
closed by security officials, who say the games are under threat from
Muslim extremists in China's western Xinjiang region.

Beijing organizers are also in a protracted showdown with TV
broadcasters, who are seeking free movement and reporting during the
games. China's communist government seems to fear being embarrassed
during the games by pro-Tibet activists, local dissidents or critics
of China's human rights policies.

The gigantic experiment to curb pollution could still go wrong.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San
Diego, said unpredictable winds could blow pollution into Beijing
despite factory shutdowns in the city and five surrounding provinces.

Ramanathan is leading a multinational research project in tracking
Beijing's pollution before, during and after the Olympics.

"Reducing the local emissions is going to reduce the local pollution,
but is that sufficient to help the athletes breath cleaner air? This
is going to depend on the winds," he said.
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