I pushed my bike to the garage door and pressed the button that set the opening-mechanism whirring.
The door had lifted no more than a few feet when I decided that I should take a taxi instead. Cycling
in Beijing can be hazardous at the best of times, but with pollution this bad, it would have been reckless to have cycled
the 12km to my appointment, near to the East third ring road.
I persuaded the taxi driver that he should close all of his windows; despite his
protestation that “fresh air” is good for you. Such is the
hardiness of the Beijing taxi driver.
Or maybe he had tuned in to the Beijing
Public Net for Environmental Protection, which publishes daily forecasts, and tracks the cleanliness or otherwise of the capital’s
air (their website can be viewed here).
Incredibly, today, which in my humble unscientific view has the worst air quality
for several weeks, scores “95” and is officially a “blue sky day” – a day when the average API
(air pollution index) is at or below 100, and therefore “good”. An air quality score of 50 is regarded as “excellent”, while 300 or more is described as “severely
“Blue sky days” were under the spotlight of the world’s media last year in the run
up to the Beijing Olympics.
Mindful of the PR significance of
a pollution-free Olympics, the authorities went to unusual lengths to ensure that the air quality during the games wouldn’t
provide ammunition to a large section the world’s media who would have loved to have rained on China’s parade.
It’s hard to say whether it was the draconian
traffic restrictions (leading to a significant reduction in car journeys), the closure of many polluting factories around
Beijing, or the time out that was called on the many thousands of construction projects that resulted in a glorious last two
weeks of August 2008. Or maybe it was simply “a change in the
weather” that made the difference. One thing is for sure,
there was an awful lot of pressure on the people responsible for delivering the decreed “blue sky”.
The final score for full-year 2008 was 274 blue sky days. A record number and an incredible tally
considering that, in 1998 – when targets were first introduced – only 100 unpolluted days were recorded in Beijing. Even more incredibly,
it’s looking like 2009 – the auspicious year when the People’s Republic will celebrate its 60th anniversary – is set
to break last year’s record number.
The day that really matters though is the 1st October, National Day, when
the live broadcast from Tiananmen and Jianguomen will be beamed live to the vast majority of Chinese homes. On that day, a score of 95 and therefore
“good” air quality won’t be nearly good enough.