Monday, July 28, 2008

The Chinese clean air experiement: how much pollution is from cars?

China is hosting the Olympics next month and they are very worried about the quality of the Beijing air. Some participants-especially marathoners-are questioning if they should compete in the games at all because of potential health risks. To address the air quality problem, the Chinese government has introduced many initiatives to clean the air. They've shut down factories and rationed auto travel. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked yet.

Though James Fallows has been tracking this over the past year with lots of great photos and commentary, he also states that there are many people who hope that China gets whats coming to them for allowing pollution to get so bad in the first place. I'm not sure about who exactly he thinks wants the Olympics to be a disaster, but I want the air to clear in order to demonstrate the pollution directly caused by cars. I think personal vehicles are a major source of localized air pollution, and if the skies of Beijing turn blue because of the limited number of cars on the road other cities we'll have evidence of a policy that works. Cities will be able to pursue auto reduction strategies based on legitimate public health effects (unlike obesity, which likely has little to do with urban form). I hope the skies clear so other cities can follow, though with better policies than rationing when you can use your car.

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