Breathe Easy About Beijing

Images of the Beijing skyline seemingly bathed in a soup of smog and haze have been a common sight on the world’s TV screens in recent days and weeks. But real and, one hopes, long-lasting environmental achievements have been made by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, the city as a whole, the government, and the six provinces concerned.

Images of the Beijing skyline seemingly bathed in a soup of smog and haze have been a common sight on the world’s TV screens in recent days and weeks. Foreign journalists with hand-held air pollution detectors have been popping up on street corners checking levels of soot and dust. Everyone seems keen to prove that the city’s air will be a decisive and debilitating factor for one of the world’s most high-profile sporting events.

Without doubt Beijing is facing a huge challenge. There are real and understandable concerns for the health of competitors, especially those in endurance and long-distance events such as cycling and the marathon.

But the current frenzied focus is marked by considerable amnesia. After all, air pollution was a major concern in Los Angeles 24 years ago, though few now seem to recall the dramatic scene at the end of the women’s marathon, when the Swiss competitor was seen staggering and stumbling from exhaustion, the heat, and, perhaps, the effects of air pollution. And air quality was also an issue for subsequent Olympic Games in Barcelona, Atlanta, Seoul, and Athens.

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