A Gold Medal Mess

By "Tern" Jessica Leber--China is determined to show the world its greenest side during this summer's Olympics, and for good reason--no one wants athletes and tourists to choke their way through Beijing’s blanket of smog. What remains to be seen is whether the Games’ environmental ethos has spurred lasting improvements in one of the world’s most polluted cities or whether, instead, its pollution problems will be swept under the rug. 

Recent developments aren’t hopeful, despite the billions already spent to scrub Beijing’s air free of particulates and smog. Early on, officials pledged that city air would regularly meet health standards by 2008 and proceeded to implement some of the toughest emissions standards in China. These efforts, however, haven’t successfully kept pace with the city’s booming economic growth, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Last summer, Olympic officials warned that some endurance events might even be postponed if air quality didn't improve.

Now, China will place a few band-aids over the problem. Organizers recently announced regulations that will halve the city’s 3.3 million vehicles on the roads in the weeks leading to and during the event, in addition to a temporary ban on pollution-spewing trucks. Factories and construction sites throughout the region could also be required to shut down if necessary. Visitors, be appreciative--the fresher air is for your benefit. These restrictions will expire soon after you leave.

Today, news outlets also report that more than 10,000 people in Qingdao, site of the sailing competition, are frantically bailing out the algae that’s now covering a third of the coastal sea. Boats are reportedly having a tough time navigating the clogged waters. Though algal blooms occur naturally, they’re often fueled by sewage or agricultural runoff feeding excess nutrients into water bodies. Chinese officials, however, say there is no “substantial link” between this bloom and pollution sources, according to the International Herald Tribune

Whether this is true or not, a new report suggests that China’s drinking water resources are also being put to an endurance test, reports Reuters. The report, from a Canadian public interest research group called Probe International, states that since 2004, Beijing has drawn water from its deep karst aquifer, which was previously reserved for times of war or emergency. Canals have also been built to transfer reservoir water from Hebei, a nearby rural province, to Beijing as a contingency for the Olympics. The water-starved area already provides the city with 80 percent of its water, the article states.

Beijing's "green" Olympics can in no way be expected to cure all its woes. Hopefully, though, the motivation to address the city's air and water problems will not die along with the Olympic torch. There's definitely still a long road to travel, in that regard. 

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