That the central government will ban driving during the Olympics next year in Beijing is not surprising. As this Journal story notes today, there will evidently be a dry run next month to see how much impact this has on air quality in the city. But what’s critical to note is the extraordinary pace at which cars are hitting the roads in Beijing, and the same is true in Shanghai and virtually every other major city in the country. Note further that Dan Rosen of China Strategic Advisory wrote in a lengthy recent study of China’s soaring energy demand that as of now, “it’s not air conditioners and automobiles that are driving China’s current energy demand, but rather heavy industry.”
Is demand for energy a proxy for how polluted China is? Unfortunately, yes. Given the current mix of industries that drive growth here AND current fuel and auto emission standards, the inescapable conclusion–still in my view not really understood widely in the outside world–is that China has not yet BEGUN to pollute. Not in comparison to where it’ll be, say, ten years from now.
Inhale deeply , folks, and ponder that one as you read this WSJ story. (The Journal is a paid site so I’m gonna paste the entire story below).
Beijing Weighs Car Ban to Cut Smog
Of Autos Is Among
By SHAI OSTER
July 4, 2007
BEIJING — Amid concern about Beijing’s ability to clean up its pollution in time for next year’s Olympics, the city has plans to ban one million cars for a two-week test of its smog-control measures next month.
A ban on one-third of the city’s cars is among the measures being considered in preparation for the Games, and could be given a trial run next month, a spokesman from Beijing’s Environmental Protection Agency said.
Beijing has just gone through the most polluted June in seven years, underscoring how hard it will be to keep the city clean enough for the gathering of the world’s best athletes for next year’s Summer Games.
Despite a string of measures to clean up the capital’s air, the haze continues. Officials blamed car exhaust and farmers illegally burning crop stubble for the unusually grim haze.
Beijing has banned coal-burning furnaces, relocated power plants outside of downtown and spent billions to move a huge steel mill from the city to a man-made island off the shore of China’s northern China’s Hebei Province. But the city remains choked in a cloud of smoke made up of sand blown in from deserts, construction dust and, increasingly, by pollution from the swelling ranks of automobiles clogging city streets.
International Olympics spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the committee had heard about Beijing’s plan to take cars off the road from Aug. 7-20 “to see how this would work.” Beijing’s Olympic officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
By the end of May, Beijing had three million vehicles on the road, up from 2.88 million last year and only 1.34 million five years ago, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. China is the world’s second-largest vehicle market by sales, after the U.S.
Each day, Beijing adds 1,000 vehicles to its roads as the city’s upwardly mobile purchase cars, which have become the latest must-have for China’s growing middle class. In a city poorly served by public transportation, cars are crossing the line from a luxury of the rich to a commuting necessity for the middle class.
All those new cars have contributed to Beijing’s pall. Levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city exceed the World Health Organization’s clean-air guidelines by at least 78%.
The test run would coincide with several trial Games events to be held at that time. While two weeks is a somewhat long time, Beijing has imposed similar measures before. During a two-day summit of African leaders in Beijing last November, government officials were ordered to stop using cars, and others such as car clubs volunteered not to drive, removing about one million cars from the roads. The results were unusually blue skies and smooth traffic, in what was billed then by the government as a dry run for the Olympics.
Concern about the toll of China’s polluted air is growing. Based on data from a report by the World Bank and China’s State Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that approximately 394,000 deaths occurred in 2003 from outdoor air pollution in China. The report said the approximate monetary cost of “excess deaths” from such air pollution was 394 billion yuan, or nearly $52 billion, and the authors assigned a value to a “statistical life” of one million yuan.
To get the Olympics in 2001, China promised to reduce concentrations of dangerous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous dioxide and ozone to within levels accepted by the World Health Organization. China also pledged to keep concentrations of particulate matter, a component of smog, down to levels similar to major cities in developed countries. Scientists say that ozone and fine particulate matter are especially dangerous.
Scientists have been measuring pollution across the city, including trying to figure out sources from outside the city, and studying the impact of Beijing’s planned move to tougher fuel and automobile-emission standards.